Thursday, October 8, 2009

Gateau de couscous

The other night I was at Café Presse on Capitol Hill -- previously recommended as a fun spot on Capitol Hill south -- and had the most interesting dessert. It should be known that we went to Café Presse for the express purpose of having dessert. This wasn’t one of those, “I’ve just had a fantastic meal of steak frites and how about some chocolat chaud to top it off” kinds of decisions. I had been to Café Presse a couple of weeks before and had one of the best sorts of cobbler-y dishes ever, so when tasked with finding somewhere with good non-chocolate options that’s what I chose.

So what was this noteworthy dessert, you ask? Gateau de couscous. I asked our server to repeat himself because surely he couldn’t have meant that tiny grain cropping up in savory dishes all over the place. But he sure did. It turned out to be a slice of something that looked much like fruitcake, no doubt because of the pieces of dried fruit, but lighter in color. It was as though the chef had mashed couscous together until it had a slightly gummy texture, then incorporated the dried fruit. I’ll admit that describing the texture as gummy doesn’t lead you to believe that I liked it, but not only was it interesting, it was decidedly tasty. Or maybe my assessment had something to do with what tasted like a crème anglaise under the slice of cake. What isn’t made better by heavy cream, egg yolks and sugar?

In looking for my own recipe to try most of the links I came across were in French. I decided to take this as a sign of the dessert’s rich cultural heritage, and not just the result of a search in which one of the terms was in French. My translation skills being as rusty as they are I couldn’t actually confirm that those recipes approximated the dessert I’d had at Café Presse, so I might have to concoct something on my own. Though in my search I did hit on this recipe for Olive Oil Couscous Cake with Crème Fraîche and Date Syrup on the website. The preparation is much different than I experienced -- the couscous is cooked as part of the batter rather than pressed into form -- but I figure that anything with “cake” and “couscous” in the title has to be worth a try.

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