As I mentioned in my last post, my job requirements currently require me to create desserts every week. Sometimes there are additional desserts to be made, for special dinners or caterings. Just before the Christmas rush began, my boss requested that I modify one of my desserts of the week for a plate-up dinner on New Year’s Eve. I was thrilled at the request, because it was one of the desserts where I had assembled a variety of components to fit with an idea, rather than simply executing an idea from a website or cookbook. But, in the contrary way that things often work, I was also frustrated with the request, because the cones themselves had yielded awkward and dissatisfying results.
The flavors of the dessert, a gingersnap cone filled with a soft, lemon infused, cream cheese mousse and given a finishing touch of chocolate through dipping the ends of the cones in bittersweet chocolate, were very nice. When I had followed the instructions for the cones as given in my cookbook, however, they had turned into more of a tube than a cone. Due to the nature of the batter, they had to be formed quickly and individually, or they would shatter or become misshapen. And knowing that making a mere eight for a dessert of the week had frustrated me, the apprehension that attempting seventy cones for the plate-up made me consider submitting a request to change the dessert out for something simple.
But I was too attached to my mental image of the dessert to abandon it, and since my boss had apparently been satisfied with the previous results which I considered to be much less than picturesque, I arrived at work the day before the party with my recipe card in hand and the knowledge that after forming seventy cones I would most likely be much more proficient than I felt after the measly sixteen or so that I had made previously in my life.
My first step, in the interest of having a shape that did not need to be explained as a cone, but was self-obviously so, was to abandon the instructions directing me to form circle and instead form a template of a wide wedge. I was delighted, when I pulled the first one out of the oven, to discover that it formed a cone much more readily than the circles had done. With the use of a small offset spatula, one of my favorite pastry tools, and the template, cut from an old plastic lid, forming and shaping the cones suddenly seemed much easier.
Even with my best efforts and disregard for singed fingers, I found I was not quick enough to form two cones from one pan. The second cone invariably shattered or turned into a bumpy, unidentifiable shape. Instead, I worked out a five pan method, where I had four pans in the oven and a fifth on which I was actively forming a cone. The quantity of pans eliminated the need for timers, by the time the next cone was ready to go into the oven, one was ready to come out. I would work the cone free of the pan liner, flip it over and quickly roll it. Using a metal cream horn mold, I would press the seam of the cone in place and leave it for a minute to harden. The first seven or so were better than I had ever made, but the next sixty-three matched the image I had formed in my mind when the dessert first occurred to me.
There were a few obstacles that I quickly worked around. Using just paper to line the pans led to the lightweight batter being sucked up into the pan, but weighting the paper with ramekins and using the two available silpats when I could fixed that issue quickly. Safely storing the cones afterward was also a slight issue, since I wanted to put them in an out of the way place where nothing would crush them, drip on them, or eat them (an issue that does occur when non-kitchen staff passes through).
In between batches of cones, I made time to whip up the cream cheese mousse, which tasted rather like a no-bake cheesecake, but had a fluffier texture. When the cones were finished, except for chocolate dipping the tips, a task that I reserved for New Year’s Eve, I quickly went through a practice plate up, decorating the dessert plate with chocolate sauce swirls and standing the cones upright. The cream cheese acted as a stabilizer, allowing even the off center cones to be placed correctly. Additional cream cheese piping for garnish, with an added benefit of hiding any blemishes near the base of the cone and I was satisfied with the design.
By January 1st, I was comfortable enough with my skills as an ice cream cone maker that I volunteered/begged my younger sister, who was stubbornly refusing to have a birthday cake at her party, to allow me to make her ice cream cones for her dessert. She gracefully allowed my request, and I whipped out another twenty cones, while teaching several housemates how to mix, spread and shape the batter. At home, I found myself making a few substitutions for the tools at work. I had fortunately been gifted with a small offset spatula for Christmas, which made spreading the batter much easier, but in the absence of a plastic lid, I cut my template out of a rectangular cake board. With no metal cream horn molds, I used the tapered marble pestle from my mother’s mortar and pestle set to help shape the cones and hold the seams while they cooled. My help and I dipped the cones in chocolate as quickly as they cooled, while my brother used the remainder of the melted chocolate to coat leftover pretzels from candy-house making. Served in traditional ice cream cone style, these desserts were just as enjoyable and picturesque as the previous cream cheese cones had been.
Gingersnap Cones (recipe, with slight adaptations, from David Lebovitz’s ‘The Perfect Scoop’)
(said to yield six cones, but my results ranged from 11 to 13 cones per recipe)
1/4 cup egg whites (about 2 eggs)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
2/3 cup flour
2 tbsp melted butter
1 tbsp molasses
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Stir together the egg whites, sugar, molasses and vanilla. Stir in the salt, spices, and half of the flour. Add the melted butter. Beat in the rest of the flour.
The dough does thicken up some as it cools and the butter firms, but I actually found it easier to spread before it started thickening up.
Use a wedge shaped template as a guide to spread a rounded tablespoon of batter across parchment paper or a silpat. I had my wedge measure seven inches along a side, but only eyeballed the width of the arc. Of course, adjusting those measurements changes the circumference and length of the cone. As I mentioned before, I had an offset spatula to spread the batter with. The cookbook says a spoon could be used instead, but it sounds much more frustrating.
The depth of the dough should seem very thin, but don’t worry about it. As long as the dough is all connected, it will rise and fill in around the thin spots. My cones were frequently transparent when then went into the oven.
Place the baking sheet in a 350 degree oven and watch the first cone carefully to get an idea of how long they’ll take to cook. The cone will start to look dry and darken up quite a bit. If it’s underdone when you pull it out, it will be too formless to shape and if it’s overdone, you won’t be able to roll it. It may take a few cones for you to find the right doneness. My cones were probably taking five to seven minutes each, but I never timed them, so I’m not sure.
To form the cones, flip the wedge over onto a workspace that won’t cause the searing burns that the baking sheet might. I found, since the narrow tip cools faster, that it works best to pinch the tip into shape first and then follow with shaping the remainder of the cone. It only takes a minute for the cones to harden completely, but in the interest of streamlining, you may want a tapered weight to set inside the cones to hold the seam while it hardens, so that you can move on to spreading out more batter.
Dipping the ends in chocolate can seal small holes and provides nice flavor contrast to the gingerbread. Be aware, though, that the chocolate will shorten the lifespan of the cones and will bloom after a few days, which is much less attractive.
Cream Cheese Mousse (adapted from Epicurious.com)
6 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup chilled whipping cream
zest of 1 lemon
Beat cream cheese with 1/4 cup powdered sugar, vanilla and lemon zest until mixture is fluffy and no cream cheese lumps remain. Beat the whipping cream until medium to stiff peaks form. Fold the whipping cream into the cream cheese in three additions. Taste and sift in remaining 1/4 cup powdered sugar to desired sweetness.
When I filled the cones for the plated dessert, I used a pastry bag to guide the mousse into the tip of the cone. The lemon flavor will be brighter if the mousse sits overnight before use, but the mousse will begin to lose structure if you leave it for longer than a couple of days.