- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2006

NEW YORK — Imagine you were invited to dine out for Valentine’s Day at Le Bernardin, one of the most highly rated restaurants in Manhattan.

More practical for most of us, imagine a stylish main course and a luscious dessert provided by the restaurant’s accomplished chefs, so that you could stage an elegant soiree in your own home.

That’s the offer here.

For your entree: red snapper in port-wine sauce, a colorful recipe from Le Bernardin’s executive chef and co-owner, Eric Ripert. He says he suggests this because it’s one of his favorites — he thinks of it as a lucky recipe.

For dessert: a chocolate caramel cashew tart (which you can also make as individual tartlets), from Le Bernardin’s executive pastry chef, Michael Laiskonis.

For a final romantic flourish, he tops the tart with a few flakes of gold leaf. “Definitely a festive dessert for Valentine’s Day with or without the gold touch,” he says.

His recipe guides you through the steps for making it. If you want to try the golden touch, he says the edible 23-karat gold comes packaged in small booklets that may be purchased at baking-supply stores. Arrange about five finger-nail-size gold flakes in the middle of the tart, or use just one flake in the center if you make individual tartlets.

Mr. Ripert’s and Mr. Laiskonis’ recipes reveal which tasks you can do ahead to streamline last-minute preparation.

For the following red snapper dish, Mr. Ripert says that you can make the sauce up to a week ahead and prepare the mushrooms up to a day ahead.

He uses porcini mushrooms (also known as cepes) for their special flavor but says you can substitute portobello mushrooms if you wish. Just be sure to discard the portobellos’ stems and remove gills from the undersides of the portobellos’ caps. Scrape the gills off with a teaspoon.

Note that you’ll need two 10-inch nonstick skillets.

Red snapper and porcini in a port-wine reduction

This recipe is from Mr. Ripert of Le Bernardin.

2 cups good port wine (10 years old, if possible)

2 cups good sherry vinegar

3 tablespoons corn oil

1 pound fresh or frozen porcini, stems cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices, caps halved if small or cut into 3 or 4 slices if large

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 clove garlic, peeled and halved

1 large shallot, peeled and finely diced

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground white pepper, to taste

4 6-ounce red snapper fillets

1/4 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

4 teaspoons minced fresh chives

To make the sauce: Bring the port to a boil in a medium-size heavy saucepan over medium-high heat.

Lower the heat slightly and simmer until reduced to 1 cup (if using a gas stove, never let the flames extend above the bottom edge of the pan), about 10 to 12 minutes.

Add the vinegar and simmer until reduced almost to a syrup consistency, lowering the heat as necessary to keep the sauce from burning around the edges, about 8 to 10 minutes, but you must watch carefully. You should end up with about half a cup. (The sauce can be made to this point up to 1 week ahead; cover and refrigerate.)

Divide 1 tablespoon of corn oil between the 2 skillets and place over high heat until the oil is just smoking. Divide the mushrooms, thyme and garlic between the skillets and lower the heat to medium. Saute until browned, about 4 minutes.

Turn the heat to low and divide the shallot and 2 tablespoons of butter between the skillets. Season to taste with both salt and pepper. Cook until the shallot is softened and the mushrooms are tender, about 6 minutes more. Discard the garlic and thyme and combine the mixtures. Reserve. (The mushrooms can be made to this point up to 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate.)

Season both sides of the snapper fillets with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the five-spice powder over the skin and rub it into the fish. Clean the skillets and divide the remaining 2 tablespoons of corn oil between them.

Place both over high heat until the oil is just smoking. Add the snapper to the skillets, skin side down, and briefly hold the fillets down with a spatula to prevent the skin from shrinking. Saute until the bottoms of the fillets are golden brown and crusted, about 5 minutes.

Turn and cook for about 5 minutes longer, until a metal skewer inserted into the fish for 5 seconds is met with a bit of resistance and feels slightly warm when touched to your lip. Keep the fillets warm.

Meanwhile, reheat the mushrooms.

Bring the wine sauce to a boil over high heat. Cut the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter into ½-inch pieces. Lift the saucepan a few inches above the heat and add the butter. Shake the pan back and forth until the butter is melted and incorporated into the sauce; this will take about 3 minutes. Do not stir or whisk the butter into the sauce. The sauce will be very shiny and clear.

To serve, stir the chives into the mushrooms and arrange them in the center of 4 large plates. Top with the snapper. Drizzle the sauce around the mushrooms and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

The main components of the dessert are the 8-inch tart shell made of chocolate dough; the caramel filling, and chocolate ganache filling.

Note: If you wish, you can use these ingredients to make 8 individual tartlets, using 2½-inch molds.

Chocolate caramel cashew tart

This recipe is from Mr. Laiskonis of Le Bernardin.


2/3 cup all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup confectioners’ sugar

3 large egg yolks

Caramel filling (recipe follows)

Chocolate ganache (recipe follows)


2 bananas

3 tablespoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons brown sugar

4 tablespoons dark chocolate, melted

½ cup roasted, salted cashews, roughly chopped

Sift together flour and cocoa powder.

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and confectioners’ sugar. Add dry ingredients. Add egg yolks, one at a time, mixing until just incorporated.

Turn dough out of the mixer bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Form into a flat rectangle and wrap tightly. Place dough in the refrigerator and allow to rest a minimum of 1 hour, or up to 2 days.

After resting, transfer dough to a lightly floured surface. Roll out to a thickness of 1/8-inch. Brush away excess flour and make into a 10-inch circle (or eight 3½-inch circles).

Line a large 8-inch ring mold (or eight 2½-inch ring molds), set on a parchment-lined baking sheet, with the dough circle (or circles), trimming the top edge and pressing the dough into the base of the ring to ensure there are no air pockets. Allow unbaked tart shell to rest further for half an hour in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake tart shell on the middle rack of the oven for 7 to 8 minutes. Rotate baking sheet and bake an additional 7 to 8 minutes. Then remove sheet from oven and allow to cool before unmolding.


½ cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

3 tablespoons water

1/4 teaspoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons light corn syrup

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon unsalted butter (room temperature)

Combine sugar, water, lemon and corn syrup in a nonreactive saucepan. Over medium heat, cook to a medium amber color, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat cream until warm.

Remove caramelized sugar from heat; add warm cream and stir to deglaze (loosen sugar from pan bottom). Return to a low heat to completely dissolve sugar, stirring if necessary. Remove from heat and emulsify butter into the caramel by slowing stirring it in. Reserve, warm, for final assembly. Or transfer into a clean container and allow to cool; store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.


½ cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

4½ ounces dark chocolate, chopped

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

In a saucepan, combine cream and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Place chocolate in a large bowl and gradually pour hot cream over it, stirring with a rubber spatula. Add butter, stirring until incorporated.

Note: Ganache is best made immediately before assembling the tart, but it can be made 1 day ahead, wrapped well, and stored at room temperature. If ganache is too stiff to spoon into the tart, it can be very gently warmed in the microwave, or over a hot-water bath, to loosen to the proper consistency. Caution: Overheating may cause the ganache to “break.”

Assemble the dessert:

Chocolate tart shell

Caramel filling

Chocolate ganache



Brown sugar

23-karat edible gold leaf (optional)

Ice cream (optional)

Arrange tart shell on a clean baking sheet and carefully brush the inside of the shell with melted dark chocolate (this will prevent the shell from absorbing any moisture from the filling; if you have made small tarts, brush each with ½ tablespoon chocolate).

Line shell bottom with 1/4 cup of the chopped cashews (or 1 or 2 teaspoons for each of small tartlets). Reserve remaining cashews for final presentation.

Spoon the caramel filling into the tart shell (warming filling if necessary), covering the nuts. The shell at this stage should be only half to two-thirds full, leaving ample space for the ganache layer. Allow tart to stand for up to 30 minutes, as the caramel sets slightly.

Warming the chocolate ganache if necessary, fill the remaining space in the tart with the ganache. Allow tart to stand an additional 30 minutes to 1 hour, at room temperature, as the ganache sets.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Slice each banana into eight 3/4-inch-thick slices. Reserve.

In a small bowl, combine melted butter and brown sugar to create a marinade. Toss the bananas in this mixture and arrange them on a roasting pan or baking sheet. Roast bananas in the oven for 4 to 8 minutes, until slightly caramelized. Remove from oven and reserve, keeping warm.

To serve, apply a touch of gold leaf on the top of the tart (if using gold leaf). Serve bananas around tart; sprinkle reserved cashews over bananas. If desired, serve with a scoop of your favorite ice cream.

Note: Finished tart will hold well, at room temperature, for up to 8 hours before serving. Mr. Laiskonis recommends the bananas be roasted and served immediately. Makes 8 servings.


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