Chocolate Chesnut Vanilla Yule Log or Raspberry Vanilla Meyer Lemon?

December 28, 2008

Milk Chocolate And Chestnut Yule Log

Now say that twelve times real fast after after one too many glasses of Champagne!! These Yule Logs are the desserts I served the family on Christmas dinner and between the 12 of us there were barely enough left for a midnight snack! I did not intend to double the work and make two "just" for fun but between the ubber chocolate fans and the "I ate too much but I still want dessert" peeps, and for my sake of a stress free meal where everybody was happy, I knew that making two was a necessity. Interesting how I belong to both groups...Let's face it, it's dessert, it's mousse, it's chocolate and it was delicious!

It was also the dessert chosen by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux for the December Daring Bakers' Challenge: a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand. I loved the traditional cake Yule Log we made last year but this entremet version suits me perfectly...if there is mousse and creme brulee and anything contrasting in texture such as a layer of crisp or feuillantine....I am coming running!!

I loved that even with the rules laid out to make a log filled with 6 different components, we still had plenty of room to use our favorite combos and flavors. Each log had to include a dacquoise layer, a feuillantine insert, a creme brulee insert, a ganache insert, a mousse and an icing. Yes...both my logs have 7 components...Again, not trying to be special....just playing with aesthetics and visuals by splitting the mousse component in two and flavoring differently.

The dark chocolate Yule Log had hazelnut dacquoise layer, a milk chocolate feuillantine, a milk chocolate and chesnut mousse, a vanilla mousse, a chestnut creme brulee, a dark chocolate ganache and a dark chocolate icing.
The white chocolate Yule Log had an almond dacquoise, a white chocolate feuillantine, a raspberry mousse, a a vanilla mousse, a Meyer Lemon creme brulee, a white chocolate ganache and a white chocolate icing.

Milk Chocolate And Chestnut Yule Log

Because I was working with two logs at the same time, (and getting Christmas together) it was easier for each log to make the vanilla mousse recipe, divide it in half and add milk chocolate and chesnut puree to one part and do the same for the other log adding pureed raspberries to half the mousse. I used the traditional French gavottes for the feuillantine part in the chocolate log as the recipe stated but I ate too many (!) to have enough for the other one so I subbed with cereals like I had done in the Poire D'Eve cake last month. The chesnut puree was from a can sent by mom in one of her care packages and the Meyer lemon addition to the creme brulee in the second log was a last minute addition after a neighbor gave us a couple....but I can't ever turn those down!

I also went very DIY with the inserts and molds (just ask Lisa, she's got pixel proofs!). The rounded vanilla insert in the chocolate log was creating by pushing a foil covered pvc pipe down the chocolate-chestnut mousse, freezing that part and then taking the insert out, brushing the ganache on and then filling it with the vanilla mousse. The mold was a traditional French loaf pan I brought with me when I moved here...a girl's gotta have her necessities, right?!!
The rounded mold for the white chocolate log was made by cutting an aluminium foil pan and molding it around a wine bottle and setting it in the bottom of another loaf pan. The mousse set up was created by using another foil wrapped pvc pipe but a foil wrapped paper towel insert-roll thingie works the same. Since I did not have the right size of rhodoids sheets used to line up the loaf pans I cut sheet protectors (you know the ones used to protect your important documents during presentations) and used them the same way...but plastic wrap works just as well.

For the sake of keeping this post to less than a mile and not losing your attention too long, I am only writing down the instructions for the chocolate log with the changes I made in italics for the raspberry one.

Milk Chocolate And Chestnut Yule Log

Chocolate Chesnut Yule Log:

Note: You can use the Dacquoise for the bottom of your Yule Log only, or as bottom and top layers, or if using a Yule log mold (half-pipe) to line your entire mold with the biscuit. Take care to spread the Dacquoise accordingly.

2.8 oz (3/4cup + 1Tbsp / 80g) ground hazelnuts
1.75 oz (1/2 cup / 50g) confectioner’s sugar
2Tbsp (15g) all-purpose flour
3.5oz (100g / ~100ml) about 3 medium egg whites
1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar

Finely mix the hazelnuts and the confectioner's sugar. (If you have a mixer, you can use it by pulsing the ingredients together for no longer than 30 seconds)
Sift the flour into the mix. Beat the eggs whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until stiff. Pour the hazelnut mixture into the egg whites and blend delicately with a spatula.
Grease a piece of parchment paper and line your baking pan with it. Spread the batter on a piece of parchment paper to an area slightly larger than your desired shape (circle, long strip etc...) and to a height of 1/3 inches (8mm).
Bake at 350°F (180°C) for approximately 15 minutes (depends on your oven), until golden. Let cool and cut to the desired shape.
For the raspberry log I used almonds instead.

Vanilla Mousse: (divided in half before the end to add the chocolate and chesnut)
2/3 cup (160g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
2/3 cup (160g) whole milk
1 vanilla bean
4 medium-sized egg yolks
3 oz (6 Tbsp / 80g) granulated sugar
3 Tbsp (25g) cornstarch, sifted
4g / 2 tsp powdered gelatin or 2 sheets gelatin
1 cup (240g) whipping cream (35% fat content)

Pour the milk and 2/3 cup cream into a saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean halves into milk and put the vanilla bean in as well. Heat to boiling, then turn the heat off, cover and let infuse for at least 30 minutes. Then remove the vanilla bean. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until white, thick and fluffy. Add the cornstarch, beating carefully to ensure that there are no lumps. While whisking vigorously, pour some of the milk into the yolk mixture to temper it. Put infused milk back on the stove on medium heat. Pour yolk mixture back into the milk while whisking vigorously. Keep whisking vigorously until mixture thickens considerably. As soon as the mixture starts to boil, leave on for only 2 more minutes. (The recipe says you should remove the vanilla bean at this time but in the interest of no one getting burned, that can be done after you take the pastry cream off the stove.) Add the gelatin and let it melt completely, stirring once or twice. Divide the batter in two equal parts.
For the milk chocolate-chesnut variation: add 1/4 cup melted milk chocolate and 1/4 cup chesnut puree to one half of the cream.
For the raspberry log: add 1/2 cup pureed raspberries to half the cream.
Whip the 1 cup whipping cream until stiff and add gradually to the pastry cream. Blend delicately with a spatula.

Dark Chocolate Ganache insert:
1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar
4.5oz (2/3 cup – 1 Tbsp/ 135g) heavy cream
5 oz (135g) dark chocolate, finely chopped
3Tbsp + 1/2tsp (45g) unsalted butter softened

Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small saucepan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color (for most of you that means darker than last month’s challenge).
While the sugar is melting, heat the cream until boiling. Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil.
Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth. Add the softened butter and whip hard and fast (if you have a plunging mixer use it). The chocolate should be smooth and shiny.
For the white chocolate ganache insert: change the chocolate and skip the butter, proceed the same way.

Lemon White Chocolate Raspberry Yule Log

Feuillantine insert:
3.5 oz (100g) milk chocolate
1 2/3 Tbsp (25g) butter
2 Tbsp (1 oz / 30g) praline (or bring 1/2 cup of sugar to an amber caramel and spread it on 1/2 cup almonds and ground until fine)
2.1oz (60g) lace crepes(gavottes) or rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K
Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler.Add the praline and the coarsely crushed lace crepes. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate. Spread between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.
For the raspberry log: replace the milk chocolate with white.

Chestnut Creme Brulee:
1 cup (230g) heavy cream
4 medium-sized (72g) egg yolks
0.75 oz (2 Tbsp / 25g) granulated sugar
1/2 cup chesnut puree

Heat the cream to just boiling. Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks (but do not beat until white). Add the chestnut puree. Pour the cream over the sugar/yolk mixture. Mix well. Wipe with a very wet cloth and then cover your baking mold (whatever shape is going to fit on the inside of your Yule log/cake) with parchment paper. Pour the cream into the mold and bake at 275°F (100°C) for about 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center.
For the raspberry log: replace the chestnut puree with 1 tablespoon of Meyer lemon juice and zest of a whole one.

Dark Chocolate Icing:
Note: I recommend doubling it to make eaiser to spread evenly.
4g / 2 tsp powdered gelatin or 2 sheets gelatin
¼ cup (60g) heavy cream
2.1 oz (5 Tbsp / 60g) granulated sugar
¼ cup (50g) water1/3 cup (30g) unsweetened cocoa powder

Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes. (if using powdered, use 2 tablespoons of water) Boil the rest of the ingredients and cook an additional 3 minutes after boiling. Add gelatin to the chocolate mixture. Mix well. Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to gelify), use immediately.
For the raspberry log: use 100 gr of white chocolate, milk instead of cream and no cocoa.

For the chocolate fans: everything is explained very well by Alice Medrich with Julia Child in this tutorial.

Lemon White Chocolate Raspberry Yule Log

Thank you ladies for another tasty challenge!
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Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2008

My Mom Rocks!

Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones! Joyeux Noel!

Christmas Eve was low key here, assembling filling boxes after boxes of baked goods and preparing for dinner with the family today.
Each year I put together a variety of treats and B. helps with the wrapping and of course tasting "reject" cookies. Pistachio and cocoa nibs cookies, chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter fudge, key lime meltaways, brownies, sables cookies, homemade marshmallows, truffles and salted butter caramel popcorn.

Even though I would not mind starting with dessert, there is duck on the menu this year with a sausage and chestnut stuffing, sweet potato casserole, greens beans with pancetta, and wild rice. Dessert ? Well, I'll tell you more about this weekend...promise!

Finally...

We finished decorating the tree just the other night and I just love sitting in the dark looking at it. The magic of Christmas...a time for reflection and cheers, joy and remembrance...

Getting Ready...

...and also of a little fun....Looks like Santa had his clothes dry on time to visit everybody...down to his suspenders!

All the best to you!
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Banana Tatin Verrines

December 22, 2008

Banana Tatin Verrines

I never know "sur quel pied danser" (on which foot to dance) the last few days leading to Christmas. I have my feet in the starters' block but it is too soon to get going! The tree is up, the house is decorated, all the doughs for the cookies and treats are made and parked in the fridge waiting for Tuesday to be baked and Wednesday to be packaged. The menu is set, the food has been shopped for and is awaiting its own oven time. Today, there were moments of pure calm with a "yeah, I can have a cup of tea and a sit down" mixed with "Oh geez! Should I be panicking, should I, should I?"...

I could have panicked this afternoon when B. asked me what were the plans for lunch. I opened the fridge, peeked in the drawers, closed the door and smiled "well, I know you wouldn't have a problem eating raw biscotti dough for dinner but it ain't Christmas yet child...so let's go get some fish and grill". I was telling Lisa last night that I was on my 4th batch of shortbread dough and not because I was packing them up but because B. was eating them faster than I was baking them!!

We took the long way home coming back from the store and walked around the neighborhood checking houses all decked up for the holidays. All of a sudden the wind picked up and the air got downright chilly, and tonight there is a 20 degrees difference from the same time yesterday. Absurd...Yet the perfect occasion for one of those dessert you tend to crave on chilly days....like a tarte tatin. I opted for Banana Tatin Verrines instead with caramelized bananas layered, creme fraiche and a ginger crumble topping. Comfort in a spoon...

Banana Tatin Verrine

Banana Tatins Verrines:

1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
(to make your own: mix one cup heavy cream with 1/4 cup sour cream and let sit overnight in the oven with the pilot light on, uncovered, refrigerate after that)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons butter
2 bananas, cut into thick slices
Crumble topping (recipe follows)

Divide the creme fraiche between two glasses or ramekins.
In a large skillet set over medium high heat, cook the sugar with the water until it caramelizes to a golden caramel. Turn the heat down to medium and add the butter. Let it melt before adding the bananas. Let them cook in the caramel for a couple of minutes until soft and caramelized. Remove from the heat and wait a couple of minutes before dividing the banana slices in between your glasses. Top with the crumble and serve.


For the crumble topping:
1/4 cup light brown sugar
4 tablespoons all purpose flour
3 tablespoons cold butter
2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat your oven to 350F.
In a bowl, combine the sugar, flour. Add the butter cut in small pieces, the ginger and mix with your fingertips until you get a mixture that ressembles coarse crumbs. Spread the mixture on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes until golden brown. Let cool to room temperature.

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Santa came a little early thanks to my dear friend Hannah from Bittersweet who sent me the cutest felt macarons that she made herself. Aren't these adorable? And calorie free!!

I might be able to post around Christmas day (maybe some pics of all the finally baked goodies and house decorations?) but I wanted to wish you all the Happiest Holidays and much love spent celebrating with family and friends!
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Lavender And Espresso Truffles

December 18, 2008

Lavender And Espresso Truffles

Christmas is right around the corner isn't it?! I am fully in the holiday spirit, at least I think I am. No, I know I am once I get home, close the door and start baking and filling boxes with goodies to be shipped off to friends and given to the family on Christmas day. Indeed, it's been a little strange looking at snowmen and pine trees while we were in shorts today...no kidding. Well, B. was because I am a "frileuse" as we say back home; always chilly. I am currently living winter vicariously through my pal Jen in Colorado who keeps filling my head with pictures of snow, ice, skiing and delicious holiday treats while I am rolling truffles.

We all have our traditions comes Christmas and there are a couple that my family never miss. My grandmother was famous for her marzipan stuffed dates and walnuts while since I was old enough to hold a spatula, I have been the one making truffles. I flew home the first Christmas after my grandma died and without exchanging a word one night my mom went to the pantry, pulled out the dates, nuts and marzipan and we made the stuffed fruits. There was quite a bit of reminiscing, a lot of crying and raw feelings shared. It was one of the best moments of my life. Through my grandma's passing I discovered what it meant for my mom to continue with certain things just the way they were. It brings people together, it gives you a breakthrough or a headache but your heart is full and your soul growing.

While grandma was playing with marzipan, I was never more than a couple of feet away, strirring and scooping and rolling ganache for truffles. You can safely assume that once I moved here, this is the one thing I never miss doing during the holidays. The truffle batter I use is a basic ganache that I flavor differently depending on my mood or what people ask for. Depending on the time available I might hand dip them in tempered chocolate (Go Jen!) and decorate them but this year it is so not happening so I made them the way we do in my family, rolled in cocoa or nuts, etc...

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I have only made two kinds so far, lavender infused truffles and espresso truffles. Once the ganache was made, I let it harden in the fridge for a couple of hours and then scooped out little balls that I rolled and place on a parchment baking sheet and place them "naked" back in the fridge. The reason behind this little "curing" it is to help them develop a natural skin so that the cocoa powder won't seep in the truffles as they stand waiting for their delicious (for you!) fate. On the other hand I find it a lot easier to have the nuts adhere to the chocolate right after you have rolled them in between your hands and your body heat has softened the ganache a bit.

I made a firm ganache with semisweet chocolate (Callebaut) and since all chocolate vary, your ganache may set up differently so if it turns out too soft, add more chocolate in your next batch or if it was too firm add a little more cream. I used a ratio of 8 oz of chocolate for 1/2 cup of cream but if you want to use milk or white chocolate increase the ratio to 12 oz for the same amount of cream. Adding alcohol will soften the ganache unless you add the same amount of chocolate so for every ounce of liqueur (about 2 tablespoons) that you use, increase the chocolate by one ounce also. For milk or white ganaches, add 2 ounces of chocolate for every ounce of liqueur. If you want to know more about chocolate, I strongly recommend this wonderful book "The Art Of Chocolate" by Elaine Gonzales.

Lavender Truffles

Makes 30 to 35 truffles

1/2 cup (125ml) heavy cream
1 tablespoon (1gr) edible lavender buds
8 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
cocoa powder for rolling

In a small heavy saucepan placed over low heat, bring the cream to a simmer. Remove from the heat and let stand 30 minutes. Strain the lavender and bring the cream back to a simmer. Once hot, add the chocolate and let stand for a couple of minutes then stir until the ganache is completely smooth. Let cool to room temperature then refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours. With a spoon or a melon baller, scoop out balls of ganache, roll them in between your palms fairly quickly and set them on a baking sheet. Refrigerate overnight. Roll them in the cocoa powder and keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Espresso Truffles:

Makes 30-35

1/2 cup (125ml) heavy cream
2 teaspoons espresso powder
2 tablespoons (1 oz) coffee liqueur
9 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups finely chopped pistachios

In a small heavy saucepan, bring the cream and espresso powder to a simmer over low heat. Add the liqueur and remove from the heat. Add the chocolate and let stand a couple of minutes then stir the ganache until completely smooth.Let cool to room temperature then refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours. With a spoon or a melon baller, scoop out balls of ganache, roll them in between your palms fairly quickly and roll them in the pistachios and keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Lavender And Espresso Truffles

For more cookies and sweet treat ideas, check Susan's Eat Christmas Cookies, Season 2!
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Gingerbread Men Macarons

December 15, 2008

Gingerbread Men Macarons

I did not intend to post about macarons again this soon until Carol planted an idea in my head. I have come to accept and oh so happily surrender to her gentle "hey Tarty! Ever thought of doing xyz?" or "what about a little of this on a little of that, eh Tarty?!". Carol perfectly fits the Parisian shoe and a visit to her blog always makes me feel a little closer to home, not to mention nostalgic of all the pastries and atmospheres of home.

The Gingerbread Men Macarons came to life because of one innocent conversation between Carol and I. Although, how innocent can conversations be when foodies are involved, hmmm...?!
Carol : "Will you do anything as mundane as gingerbread persons?Gingerbread macarons probably doesn't work..."
Me: "Argghhhhhhhhhhhh !! YOU!!! Guess what I am scketching in my head right now?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You might have gingerbread macs before you know it!!"
Carol: "While you're sketching, can you put teeth on the mac upper and lower and place a mini gingerperson in between?
Crunch crunch :)"


Yes, phase one is complete...Gingerbread Men macarons. Phase two with mini gingerbread men escaping the clutching teeth (or feet) of macarons is going to required some logistics and lots of tiny little drawings...and time...a precious commodity to all of us this holiday season whether you are baking, wrapping, crafting, etc... I don't think the oven has had much of a break this weekend and I am looking forward to trying some new ice cream recipes! [Before I forget: I have taken into account those who so generously volunteered their time and feedback to test some recipes and you will find email requests soon in your mailboxes. I also want to thank those who have already started and gave me very valuable information.]

Gingerbread Men Macarons

I am still on the fence about those Gingerbread Men Macs. Aesthetics wise, I wish I'd taken a smaller tip to pipe the macaron batter to give them nicer feet and arms but I was afraid of it deflating too much if I did so. I drew templates with a cookie cutter and then filled in the space with a medium tip. After piping 10 gingerbread men, I wondered how well they would come out and decided to switch the batter to a bag fitted with a larger tip and pipe regular ones. In doing so I deflated the batter a little too much to get the proper "feet" on the shells while keeping the overall look intact.

Taste wise, we fell head over heels for those and B. declared them his favorites ever and got a little upset when I admitted finishing them up earlier today. I added the spices found in gingerbread men cookies to both the shells and the buttercream and sprinkled some crushed gingersnaps on top of the round shells. The smell in the house was absolutely wonderful! Wish I had a way to bottle that up into "Eau de Gingerbread Macarons".

Gingerbread Men Macarons:

For the shells:
90 gr egg whites (about 3)
30 gr granulated sugar
200 gr powdered sugar
110 gr almonds
1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

For the whites: the day before (24hrs), separate your eggs and store the whites at room temperature in a covered container. If you want to use 48hrs (or more) egg whites, you can store them in the fridge. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue. Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry. Combine the almonds, powdered sugar and spices in a food processor and give them a good pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Add them to the meringue, give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that flows like magma or a thick ribbon. Give quick strokes at first to break the mass and slow down. The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809) with the batter and pipe small rounds (1.5 inches in diameter) onto parchment paper lined baking sheets. Preheat the oven to 280F. Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to harden their shells a bit and bake for 20-22 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool. If you have trouble removing the shells, pour a couple of drops of water under the parchment paper while the sheet is still a bit warm and the macarons will lift up more easily do to the moisture. Don't let them sit there in it too long or they will become soggy. Once baked and if you are not using them right away, store them in an airtight container out of the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer. To fill: pipe or spoon about 1 big tablespoon in the center of one shell and top with another one.

For the spiced mousseline buttercream:
3 sticks butter at room temperature
5 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

In the bowl of stand mixer, whip 5 egg whites until they have soft peaks. In the meantime, combine 1/4 cup water with the sugar to a boil in a heavy saucepan and bring the syrup to 250F. Slowly add the sugar syrup to the egg whites. If you use hand beaters, this is even easier and there is less hot syrup splatter on the side of your bowl and in the whisk attachment of the stand mixer. Continue to whip until the meringue is completely cooled. Slowly add the butter, one tablespoon at a time. The mass might curddle but no panic, continue to whip until it all comes together. Add the spices and fold them in with a spatula.

Gingerbread Men Macarons
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Poached Quince And Red Fruit Cake

December 11, 2008

Poached Quince Cake

This is going to be a short post I fear today. I can't shake this cold and can somebody tell me why it is 70F after midnight....talk about throwing a migraine into the loop!! It's December for crying out loud!! Time for mulled wine, sweaters, fireplaces, clementines, hot cocoa, pomegranates, and quinces. Instead the fall/winter produce stalls have to share their space with berries and juicy melons. Upside down, inside out...completely out of the box, which is kind of where I went with this cake. Innocent looking cake, filled with poached quinces, topped with berries, baked and served in a box used for Brie or Camembert instead.

The idea came to me over lunch the other day as we were finishing the last of the Brie and while we were planning our friend J.'s birthday party for Friday. J. is a prankster. A good one for sure but it's pretty much non stop with him. A get together with him and his wife is never just that. On the ride to their house, we are always wondering what he's got in store, who will be involved and how long we are going to talk about it on the way back home. They're nice pranks but after so many years, we are all scheming on how and when to get him back. All in good fun. Well, except for a couple of us like F. who is ready for pay back since the day he found his motorcycle on the roof of his house...long story...

Poached Quince Cake In Brie Box

I figured that handing him a cheese box at dessert time was still a little obvious so I topped the cake with different fruits, strawberries, raspberries, pomegranate, grapes and glazed them all with some apple jelly. That way, he would still be unsure about what was underneath. I got B. fooled so I am hoping that will work too. Can't take credit for the look novelty as I inspired by the look of one of my pastry bad boy, Michalak. I had already decided to use my tried and true cake recipe but I could not pass on his cute presentation. And no, the cake did not smell of stinky cheese...

Ever tried to apply fruit glaze or jelly to fruits over tart shells or cakes and they keep moving, rolling around and never staying put? Imagine applying glaze to a beautiful lemon curd tart topped with a gazillion rolling blueberries. Not that easy! Here is my trick for stress free glazing: warm up your glaze so that it is very liquid in consistency, fill a travel size spray bottle with it and spray your tart or cake with the glaze as quickly as possible.

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Poached Quince And Red Fruit Cake:

Makes 2 cakes, 4 inches round

For the poached quince:
1 quince, peeled, cored and sliced
2 cups water
1/4 cup (50gr) sugar
3 cloves
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon lemon zest

In a large saucepan set over medium high heat, place the quince and the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and continue to cook the quince for about 45 minutes, until soft and pink. Remove the quince from the liquid and let cool to room temperature.

For the cake:
3 eggs
1/2 cup (100gr) sugar
1/2 cup (115gr) sour cream
1 cup (135gr) cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons (60 gr) butter, melted and cooled

About one cup of mixed berries or any fruit of your liking
About 1/2 cup apple jelly to glaze the fruits

Preheat oven to 350F. Line the top and bottom part of a Brie or Camember box with parchment paper or aluminium foil. Coat with cooking spray and set aside.
In a mixer, whip the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the sour cream and mix until incorporated. Add the flour, baking powder and melted butter and mix on medium high speed until all the ingredients are well blended and the batter is smooth. Stop the mixer and by hand fold in the poached quince. Divide the batter among the cake "pans" and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Let cool completely. Top the cakes with the fruits and apply the apple jelly, previously warmed up until spreadable.
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Satsuma Pistachio Dacquoise And Buttercream

December 8, 2008


Pistachio Dacquoise & Pistachio Citrus Buttercream

I just love December so much I could just wrap my arms around it and hug it so tight it would burst! What gets me so excited in December? Well, Christmas light, Christmas decorations, roasted chestnuts, cranberries, get-togethers, oyster roasts...Oh! I don't know...a gazillion things. My heart burst, my head spins and my heart swells a little bigger comes December. Time to take a hand, lend a hand, bake a little, bake a lot, send a hug, write a card...ok,ok...you get it..sorry I tend to not filter my emotions come December.

Indeed, I ride high and I ride low...especially if I don't get to go home for Christmas. B. knows when and how to get the arsenal of chocolate and tissues ready for when I hit my lows and I give him ample warning of long Christmas stories from my childhood are about to leave my lips the moment I start decorating the tree. The creche and the santons, the 13 desserts of Provence, our long dinners and lingering lunches, taking the young ones to a Disney movie on Christmas day, I just start and never stop (like now, oops!)

Like a lot of people away from home during holidays and important celebrations, I like to recreate atmospheres that make me feel closer to the ones I love and like most people they tend to revolve around food or the dinner table. Making homemade cards while having some cake and a cup of tea, making truffles and madeleine as was my "duty" for Christmas Eve as soon as I was able to reach the the counter top perched on my stool. One particular thing I do is make a giant fresh fruit, nuts and dried fruit bowl like my mom has on the dining room table, available at all times. Unshelled almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, dates, dried apricots and prunes, fresh apples, lychees and satsuma oranges. The bowl empties out fast with all the people around, dropping by or simply grazing.

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The other day I realized that even with friends visiting, it was mostly the two of us partaking in my mother's tradition and the fruits would end up ripening too fast before we'd get to them. I wanted to bring something a little festive to our weekly gathering with the neighbors, a little green, a little red, a little citrus. Pistachios, pomegranate, and a little satsuma orange, (zest and juice) one of my favorite scents, thrown together, somehow...At first I thought about making macarons with those flavors and then I decided to take the same batter and turn it into dacquoise petits fours instead.

The ingredients are the same for either macarons or dacquoise only your touch in folding will make a difference. Work the batter into a shiny mass and you get macarons. Gently fold your meringue into the nuts and you get a dacquoise. Bake it into disks and you get the base of a yummy cake or pipe into long shapes and you get the perfect two bite dessert to end a meal or to go with a cup of tea. Top with fresh fruits to keep it on the light side, or buttercream for a richer approach as I did here, keep them as one, or like macarons, sandwich two together...the possibilities in flavors and topping are as endless as you want them to be.


Satsuma Pistachio Dacquoise & Satsuma Pistachio Buttercream :
Kitchen Note: feel free to substitute any orange, clementine, mandarin that you find for the satsuma orange used here. Same for the nuts, if you don't like pistachios, replace the amount with any other nut of your liking but as with macarons, keep a certain ratio of almonds to prevent the batter from being too oily. Unlike with macarons, the egg whites do not need to be aged.

For the dacquoise "fingers":
3 egg whites (about 90gr)
50gr sugar
70 gr almonds
30 gr pistachios
70 gr powdered sugar
1 tsp powdered green food coloring
2 tsp satsuma orange zest

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue. Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry. Combine the almonds, pistachios and powdered sugar in a food processor and pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Add the coloring and orange zest. Sprinkle the nut mixture over the meringue add carefully fold the two batters together placing your spatula in the center of the bowl, scrape the bottom and bring it over the top. Rotate the bowl 45 degrees and repeat the same motion until both mixtures are fully incorporated. Make sure not to deflate the meringue as you do so. Pipe 3 to 4 inches strips on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake for 18-20 minutes at 300F.

For the satsuma pistachio buttercream:

3 egg whites
1/2 cup (100gr) sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 sticks (170 gr) butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons satsuma orange juice
1 teaspoon satsuma orange zest
1/4 cup finely ground pistachios
1/2 tsp powdered green food coloring

In the bowl of stand mixer, whip the egg whites until they have soft peaks. In the meantime, combine the water with the sugar and bring them to a boil in a heavy saucepan. Bring the syrup to 250F. Slowly add the sugar syrup to the egg whites. If you use hand beaters, this is even easier and there is less hot syrup splatter on the side of your bowl and in the whisk attachment of the stand mixer. Continue to whip until the meringue is completely cooled. Slowly add the butter, one tablespoon at a time. The mass might curdle but no panic, continue to whip until it all comes together. Add the juice and zest from the orange, the pistachios and food coloring.

At this point you can refrigerate the buttercream for a later use up to 4 days or freeze for up to three months. To assemble the dacquoise petit fours, make sure the buttercream is of spreadable consistency and fit a piping bag with a large star tip (or the nuts might clog the flow as you pipe) and pipe on the meringue. Decorate with pomegranate seeds if desired.

Pistachio Dacquoise & Pistachio Citrus Buttercream
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Pomegranate Hibiscus Tea & Honey Ginger Yogurt Verrines - A Virtual Hug

December 5, 2008

Pomegranate Hibiscus Tea & Ginger Yogurt Verrine

I play well with food. We get along nicely.
I can twirl it around, bake it, cut it, stretch it, play it up, play it down.
We spend many hours together everyday. Swishing sounds of the whisk play with the silence of my thoughts.
We do get along well. Sometimes though I wish I weren't alone in the kitchen.
Peeling fruit, brewing tea. Impatiently waiting for that drop of honey to fall from the spoon. Sometimes I wish I had Barbara with me in the kitchen.
I know she would sit on the vintage stool by the counter. For about 5 minutes before heading in there with me.
I know she would pour us a glass of wine while helping me pick the buttercream from my cheek
Like she virtually wiped the tears from my heart last year when I lost someone I had never met but already loved.
She would remind me to dance even if only in my head.
In fact I believe she'd turn the radio louder and we'd dance right in the middle of spun sugar and flour clouds.
Then we would fall loudly on the sofa and laugh...and hug.

Barbara needs and deserves all the hugs she can get right now as she is undergoing yet another round of chemo and being the Lady that she is, she remains quiet and private about it. However Bron and Ilva started thinking that it was about time we got vocal about this wonderful woman and tell her how much we care, love and want to be there, right next to her fighthing that nasty disease. A secret email for a special person and you know me....when there is some cancer butt kicking...I am there!

I don't have to touch to know. I don't have to see to understand. Barbara is around. She has worked her magic in so many of us. Time to say "thank you" and "we love you".....

Pomegranate Jewelry

You can imagine that if I am calling her attention here while she is on chemo, it would be difficult to stomach seeing buttercream ladden cakes (nothing wrong with that usually) or sticky sweet creations (nothing wrong with that usually either). Keeping that in mind I decided to concentrate "good for you" flavors in a glass, also called verrine and have a little fun with the presentation. Since recreating Pierre Herme's Sensation Satine last year, I admit that I have a fondness of geometrically challenged mousses or jelly set in glass. Seriously, doesn't that look like fun?

I know that Barbara loves pink and has a fondness for travels and exotic locales so I wanted to make her travel a bit without much effort right now. I made some hibiscus tea that B. had brought back from Egypt and mixed it with some pomegranate juice, turned the mixture into a jelly and once set I topped it off with some Greek yogurt flavored with some honey and ginger. The yogurt mixture is turned into a jelly also for the sole purpose of consistency continuity. I tried it just spooned on top of the jelly and also as made here and it worked much better as a jelly for spooning and eating with the tea part but feel free to experiment to your own liking.

Did you see those macarons sneaking up next to that dessert? Couldn't help it! The pomegranate seeds look like little jewel gems to me and I couldn't help pairing them with macaron (eye) candy so I when I was making some to take as a hostess gift, I also colored some of the batter and filled them with buttercream and added a seed in the middle and a seed on top. Macarons are indeed perfect little hugs of sweetness.

Love you Barbara!

Tea Jelly Verrines & Macarons

Pomegranate Hibiscus Tea and Honey Ginger Yogurt Verrines:

Makes 6 servings

For the tea jelly:
1 1/2 cups brewed hibiscus tea
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
1 tablespoon lemon zest

Pour the water into a small container, sprinkle the gelatin over it and set aside. In small saucepan set over medium high, heat together the tea and juice, and the sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add the lemon zest and remove from the stove Add the gelatin and stir until it is completely melted. Let cool to room temperature. Divide evenly among glasses and position them at an angle in an empty egg carton. Let set a couple of hours in the fridge.

Honey Ginger Yogurt Gelee:
1 1/2 tsp gelatin
2 Tb water
2 cups Greek yogurt
1/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger

Pour the water into a small container, sprinkle the gelatin over it and set aside. In a small bowl, heat half the yogurt in the microwave for one minute. Microwave the gelatin for 12 seconds. Quickly mix the two together, add the rest of the yogurt, ginger and the honey. No need to let it cool, layer it on top of the tea layer and position it at the opposite angle in the egg carton. Refrigerate for a couple of hours.
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Daring Bakers, Caramel Cake and Soft Grand Marnier Caramels

November 29, 2008

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I can hardly believe that the Daring Bakers are already two years old and that next month will be my own two year anniversary with the group. I can hardly believe that it went from Lisa emailing me with "hey there are four of us making biscotti, are you interested?" to "hey should we have a name?" to a full blown multi national group of bakers of all ages and all levels. We may all see the challenges differently but it does not matter as long there is a good dose of butter, sugar, flour! I am learning so much about others, the way they approach recipes and ideas as well as their cultures. Cheers to two years Daring Bakers and to many more!

I love when things come full circle or half circle or when there is a little something somewhere, a little detail that makes sense to me or/and others. It did this month in the sweetest way (pun completely intended), when Dolores from Culinary Curiosity , along with Alex from Blondie and Brownie and Jenny of Foray into Food chose Shuna's Caramel Cake as our November Challenge. When I first started reading food blogs, I tuned in to Shuna's Eggbeater almost everyday. It took me forever and a day to leave a comment as every time I finished her last sentence I felt so inadequate posting a simple "Wonderful post". She has right the words to describe our industry, about being a chef, a woman, a human being wearing her heart upon her sleeve. I laugh, I cry, I shake my head "yes" and when she announced she was moving to London I was so thrilled for her...following what's next and embracing all the unknowns that go with it.

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So yes...making Shuna's Caramel Cake on the Daring Bakers' two year anniversary was one of those little details that mean a lot to me...like paying it forward in some way. And if you have been reading this blog for a little while you know how much I like playing with hot sugar (...blue caramel plate anyone?). Yep, I liked the idea from the get go, especially with a frosting that starts with browned butter. The smell in the house was enough to make you want someone would bottle it up in a perfume! The cake was easy to make and we all (us and the neighbors) loved its texture, and at first the frosting was a little too sweet to me but I did add some fleur de sel which really enhanced its flavor on the second day. Ah! The pleasure of biting into little salt crystals at the same time as biting into that sweet caramel frosting...hmmhmmhmm.

Given that we were given a lot of leeway in the making of the cake, I went ahead and made 4 small cakes instead of one. Granted I love caramel and salt but I also love caramel and citrus so I did add some grated lemon zest to the cake batter and as previously mentionned some fleur de sel to the frosting. I thought I would not have time to make the extra recipe for caramels but I needed to stand and move around after Thanksgiving dinner last night and I went ahead and did Grand Marnier caramels (citrus again) that I wrapped in waxed paper and boxed up in little Christmas tins for gift giving (except half of them are already gone...oops!). From turkey low to sugar high, I think we have all the compenents of a perfect holiday season!
For the decoration, there was a bunch of kids eating with us so I kept it simple but did sneak in some "bubble caramel", a caramel technique that makes me giggle everytime I use it, (and the kids too) although be careful as you "play" with pouring hot sugar syrup over alcohol to create the bubble effect.

Thank you Lisa and Ivonne once more and our wonderful hostesses! Check out the rest of the Daring Bakers and their fantabulastic creations here.

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Caramel Cake With Caramelized Butter Frosting, courtesy of Shuna:

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.
Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.
Sift flour and baking powder. Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}
Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan. Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it. Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

Caramel Syrup:
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)

In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.
When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.
Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Caramelized Butter Frosting:
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.
Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.
Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light.

Bubble Caramel:
1/2 cup (100gr) sugar
3 tablespoon (45 ml water)
1 tablespoon (15 gr) corn syrup
rubbing alcohol (I use a spray bottle)

Combine all the ingredients in a heavy saucepan and bring them to a boil. Monitor the temperature with a candy thermometer and bring the mixture to 300F. While the caramel is reaching its desired temperature, take a sheet of parchment paper and crinkle it between your hands then flatten it out a bit. This will help with the forming of the bubbles. Spray rubbing alcohol on the parchement paper right before the caramel reach its temperature (don't do it ahead of time or it will be dry when you are ready to pour). When the caramel is ready, slowly pour it over the parchment paper and watch the bubble form. You can lift the paper carefully to spread it around the surface if needed but watch out! I do this over a large sheetpan so all is required for clean up is hot water. Let cool completely before breaking into shards. This is more a deco than an edible piece of caramel given the alcohol used. I guess one could use a high percentage clear alcohol (maybe my uncle's moonshine that cleans the bottoms of coffee cups!) but I haven't tried it that way yet.

Homemade Grand Marnier Caramels

Grand Marnier Caramels, adapted from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert.

Makes eighty-one 1-inch caramels
Note: the original recipe calls for Golden Syrup but I wanted to finish the corn syrup I had so I subsituted one invert sugar for another one without a problem.

1 cup corn syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Grand Marnier
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened

Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the corn syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, heat the cream in a small saucepan until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°f for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the Grand Marnier extract. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.

Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.
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Happy Thanksgiving!

November 26, 2008

Chocolate Cupcakes - Happy Thanksgiving!

Thankful that my 5 year old nephew asked me to make him chocolate cupcakes with "snow frosting" for Thanksgiving dinner...even if that's all he'll eat. How can I say "no"?!!

Fall Sprinkle

Thankful for little things like sprinkles and having this space to tell you about my passion for all things sweet. Thankful to have you read and leave your thoughts post after post.

Around The House

Thankful for friends who know how much I miss Fall and bring me a bouquet of leaves from a trip to the mountains! Thank you C&H!!

Thankful For The Important Stuff

Thankful to my wonderful husband for his constant gift of love, friendships and laughter and for always "expecting the unexpected"....Thank you to my families both here and home. When I keep wavering like a feather you are always the rocks I rely on.

Thankful For The Little Things

Thankful to the little things in life like ribbons and polka dots, for putting a smile on my face at the oddest time of the day.

Thankful For Christmas Ornaments

Thankful that Christmas is here soon: care packages after cookie boxes after macarons after... shipped to friends and family.
Thankful that B's family agreed to come here for Christmas dinner and letting me be their host.

Just wanted to wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving and give a few thanks of my own.
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Pumpkin Meringue Tartelettes

November 23, 2008

Pumpkin Meringue Tartelettes

With the holidays just upon us, I hope you won't mind a little pre-Thanksgiving dessert and have to let you in on a little secret: I won't be cooking or baking this Thanksgiving. Argh!!! Horror!!! Truth is, I never cook or bake that day as I am reminded each year that it is not "my" holiday. Well yes, French people did not have Pilmgrims and Native Americans (we had Romans and Vikings but that's another story), but Thanksgiving is important to my American. I know that Thanksgiving is more than that, the viking-pilgrim thing is just a joke between us when people ask me what the French do for T-Day. What is important to B. is important to me. In his family dynamics however, I get to sit this one out.

I love entertaining, holiday cooking and baking, having a bunch of friends and dear ones around. Planning, making the menus...I miss this greatly being so far away from my family most holidays. Comes Thanksgiving and my head is spinning with recipes, both sweet and savory and I get to relax. Horror!! I am serious here, I know a lot of you super master entertainers and foodies can relate!! By Christmas I am so terribly homesick that we elope to the mountains and regroup while B. lets me reminisce about my Christmases by home.

If anything, I live for my family dinners as his family is way smaller and calmer. There are no less than 20-30 people at my parents' house gathering around the table for Christmas Eve and just about the same number on Christmas day. There are kids everywhere, toys all over the place, bottles behind curtains (remind me to tell you about that when we get closer to Christmas). There is virtually no room to move around, the garage is the same temperature as the refrigerator so my parents' car is transformed into a cheese and dessert shelf. There is noise, loud noise, jokes, laughters, discussions, disagreements. We eat and chat for hours. B. will say that he needs to train a couple of weeks in advance to match the 6 hour festivities of eating and drinking two days in a row. We do take our time and talk a lot in between courses. One year we tried to rush so that my grandparents would get to bed at a decent hour but they got mad and stayed up with us until 2am....we did not tell them we kept at it until 4am!

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One of the things I learned early on about my husband is his love for two Thanksgiving classics: pecan and pumpkin pies. Pecan pie was an easy one to get used to when I moved to the US as it was very close to our "tarte aux noix" that we have in the North. The concept of pumpkin pie was new to me yet completely fascinating. When I exclaimed "pumpkin? In a pie?", he was quick to say "you guys preserve all chestnuts in sugar syrup and then glaze them with more sugar syrup...and you eat them...just like that!!" Ah yes, the Marron Glace! I could see his point, it's an acquired taste. However, a taste for a cold slice of pumpkin pie is ve-ry easy to acquire!!

Even if we don't get to have the family over on that special Thursday, we created our own tradition years ago by hosting a pre-Thanksgiving dinner the week before with a few of our close friends. We gather early around in the kitchen and dining area and we cook and bake together wile chatting and sipping wine. Each person has his or her favorite thing to make and eat and early on I started combining my heritage and B's by combining ingredients I'd find here in dishes I would make back home.

One thing I love in the world of sweet things is meringue. I can eat meringue all day and never reach the bottom of the cookie jar. When time came bring dessert to our gatherings the first thing that came to my mind was to make a Pumpkin Meringue Pie, combining two of our childhood favorites. I like to use a sable base instead of the traditional pate brisee crust and once the filling is baked, I pipe rosettes of Italian meringue on top and use the blow torch to finish it off. We have had this way for the past ten years so I guess you could say we now have our own tradition for Thanksgiving albeit a week early!!

Pumpkin Meringue Tartelettes

Pumpkin Meringue Tartelettes:

Makes 8 small tartelettes (3 inches diameter) or one 9 inch round pie

Sable Dough:
1 stick (115 gr) butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (93 gr) powdered sugar
1 large egg
1 1 /2 cups (188gr) flour
2 tablespoons (20 gr) cornstarch (makes for a lighter crumb)pinch of salt

In a mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and mix until combined. Add the flour, cornstarch and salt and mix briefly to incorporate. Dump the whole mixture onto a lightly floured board and gather the dough into a smooth ball. Do not work the dough while in the mixer or it will toughen up. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour. When the dough is nice and cold, roll it out on a lightly floured board or in between the sheets of plastic. You will have extra dough that you can save for another use in the fridge for up to 5 days or frozen, well wrapped for up to 3 months. Cut out 8 rounds two inches larger than your pastry rings. Fit the dough inside the rings with your fingertips and trim the edges with a sharp knife. Line the rings with small squares of parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dry beans. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes. Let cool.

For the Pumpkin Filling:
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup canned pumpkin (not the whole can but 8 oz)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
2/3 cup whole milk

In a large bowl, beat the egg and sugar until pale. Add the pumpkin, spices and salt and mix until just incorporated. Add the milk and slowly and mix well. Divide the batter among the cooled tart rings and bake for 20-30 minutes at 350F until the batter looks like it is just set, don't overcook or it will crack on you. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before proceeding with the meringue topping.

For the Italian Meringue:
2 egg whites (60 grams)
1/2 cup (100gr) sugar
2 tablespoons water

In a heavy bottom saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil and cook the mixture until it reaches 245-248F on a candy thermometer. In the meantime, start beating the egg whites firm peaks but not stiff or dry. When the sugar syrup has reached the proper temperature, slowly add it to the egg whites with the mixer on low-medium speed. Once all the sugar has been poured in, turn the speed to high and beat until the meringue has cooled. Place it in a piping bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe rosettes of meringue on top of the tartelettes. Use a blowtorch to slightly caramelize the tops or place them under the broiler in your oven but make sure to keep a close eye on them.

Pumpkin Meringue Tartelettes
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Black Tie Macarons And A Calendar Girl

November 20, 2008

Black Tie Macarons

These are not the Frenchie version of Oreos but rather Black Tie Macarons that I made for a party, not that I don't like love Oreos mind you! You see, I don't usually mingle with B's music jobs unless they are at a restaurant or some gig for the city. They are jobs, fun and full of passion for music but they are jobs nonetheless. It's not "Take your spouse to work" kind of day. He's focused, he's playing, he needs to mingle and talk to the guests. Then once in a while they are the jobs that I find myself completely intertwined with. It can be a client of mine marrying her daughter and having his band play, a restaurant we both love is having the band that night, etc... And then there are the jobs where I am supplying desserts or favors and his band is playing that night. Usually we are pretty good at keeping track of our schedules and I know where and when he plays and he can keep track of where I am by following the crumbs I leave behind me (not that far from the truth, really)! There are weeks however where we would not even see a giant pink neon post-it with our "where to be/what to wear" list even if it stared us in the face. It seems that the week before I headed to Lisa, I did not register as well a lot of info thrown at me and B. remembered two music jobs at the last minute, rushing in the house in shorts and tee shirt and running out in black pants, crisp white shirt in less than 2 minutes.

When you play music at the same restaurant for 20 something years, locals get to know you and you get to know them. When your spouse ends up working in the kitchen there, you widen the circle. Patrons start asking if you play for private parties and if your spouse can make a dessert table for said events and then you need more giant neon post-its...! Well last week we did not realize that we were working the same party and that our schedules were going to cross path. A dear to us couple was celebrating their 50th anniversary in an all out "Black Tie Affair" and while B. had the responsibility to toot his horn (literally), I had been asked to make macarons inspired by the event. Hmmm...It took me 2 seconds to decide I was going to make "Black Tie Macarons" filled with Swiss meringue buttercream.

Black Tie Macarons

Although I had seen black macarons before I had always thought that there was no way a tablespoon or two of powdered food coloring would be enough to make them deep dark. When I tried the experiment last year, they indeed turned out grey. After calling a couple of friends back home, I came to realize that the strength of the color was different from one country to the next. Different reasons later, I still had not tried them with another brand. The small bakery supply store where Lisa took Kelly and me to get the wedding cake pans had lots of stuff I would have loved to play with but my mission was to find the proper cake pans for the wedding cake. I was right on track until my eye caught a glimpse of their food coloring shelf...and there it was: one single bottle of black powdered food coloring. I looked at the label: one little goofy chef holding a whisk and the words "made in France". No brand. In a split second, it felt like the bottle was burning a hole in my hand, "my precious"....Then again, once back here after the wedding, life took over and I put the black macs aside until this couple called with their order. I am glad they trusted me with the idea and I was so pleased of how they turned out...but "my precious" is now empty again.

So yes, it was a good experiment, one I am willing to reproduce by working with the food colors I find here but I tend to like macarons on the natural to light color side and unless I am specifically asked for an unusual color, I don't think I would have done "bright blue" or deep black ( I did add some pearl dust and sesame seeds for the optical effect at the party). The color had almost purple hues at times and the guests loved them but let's face it...good thing it was dark and they did not show one another their tongues. It is a little too early in the season to be "eating coal"..eheheh!

Black Tie Macarons

Black Tie Macarons:

For the shells:
90 gr egg whites (about 3)
30 gr granulated sugar
200 gr powdered sugar
110 gr almonds
black powdered food coloring (the end color will depend on how much you use)

For the whites: the day before (24hrs), separate your eggs and store the whites at room temperature in a covered container. If you want to use 48hrs (or more) egg whites, you can store them in the fridge. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue. Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry. Combine the almonds and powdered sugar in a food processor and give them a good pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Add them to the meringue, give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that flows like magma or a thick ribbon. Give quick strokes at first to break the mass and slow down. The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809) with the batter and pipe small rounds (1.5 inches in diameter) onto parchment paper lined baking sheets. Preheat the oven to 280F. Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to harden their shells a bit and bake for 20-22 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool. If you have trouble removing the shells, pour a couple of drops of water under the parchment paper while the sheet is still a bit warm and the macarons will lift up more easily do to the moisture. Don't let them sit there in it too long or they will become soggy. Once baked and if you are not using them right away, store them in an airtight container out of the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer. To fill: pipe or spoon about 1 big tablespoon in the center of one shell and top with another one.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
1/2 cup (100gr) sugar
2 large egg whites
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Put the sugar and egg whites in a large heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like marshmallow cream. Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat the meringue on medium speed until it cools and forms a thick shiny meringue, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment and add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes. Add the vanilla and whip for another 10 seconds to incorporate it.
Tartelette Calendar - Customized calendar
Tartelette is now a calendar girl...!! Hmm, not in a red polka dot bikini but in the form of some favorite pictures of the past year. It all started when my mother asked me to make one so she could buy it for family and friends as stocking stuffers, then my aunt mentionned it to me again as in "your mom asked me to remind you to make that calendar this year"...and then I happily received email requests, so here it is! I hope you like it. The year has surely been a full and fast one!
You can purchase one by following this link, Tartelette Calendar on Zazzle or by clicking on the calendar icon on the sidebar.
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Around The World In 100 Cookies: Field Guide To Cookie Book Tour

November 17, 2008

Viennese Crescents

Here is another post in the series "When blogging become much more than just blogging". I am loving the extra dimentional relationships formed and cultivated through blogging and when Anita asked a few of us to take her first released book "Field Guide To Cookies" on a virtual tour, I literary smiled from ear to ear. Anita is a sweetheart, a terrific baker, a great friend, a fellow Daring Baker (we hosted the Saint Honore challenge together), and an extremely talented writer. Indeed, no one can describe flavors and textures as well as she does. Trust me. Head over to her blog, Dessert First and then tell me if you did not get lost in the fold of a sweet pie or the silkiness of an ice cream.

It just happened that Anita asked us to take her book on a tour at the same time that I was completing the Princess Torte assignment for Desserts Magazine and the editor mentionned that the next issue would be on cookies. Ha! "Well...I am just getting this nifty pocket book filled with 100 recipes of cookies from all over the world. I am sure I can come up with something!" And I sure did! Viennese Crescents, Indian Cookies, Algerian Almond Tarts, Dark Chocolate Crinkles (I won't post the recipe as you can see on another host's blog, Sara from Ms. Adventures In Italy), Pecan Sandies and Turtle Bars were made and devoured by the neighbors and us in a mere couple of weeks. They went so fast that I did not have the chance to take a picture of the Turtle Bars...they were going faster than I was cutting them!

“The Field Guide To” is a fun and informative series on how to master almost anything in the kitchen from meat to cocktails and now cookies. The whole format behind the series is to have a booklet full of information on how to achieve the perfect cookie, every time, whether you are a novice baker or a seasoned one. The book is divided into four chapters: drop cookies, bar cookies, molded cookies and rolled cookies. The notes on the perfect cookies and baking tools are perfect for beginners in the kitchen, giving them detailed explanation of what usually goes wrong in cookie making. The pocket size format makes it easy to have it around the kitchen and out on the counter top almost all the time. I like the fact that I can carry Anita’s recipes with me on weekend escapades, family gatherings or friends and have a delicious recipe to prepare for them!
Knowing her care for details and wonderful writing skills, this book went beyond all expectations I had. Each recipe is so much more than just a recipe. It starts with a general description that reads more like a history lesson then just a description of taste and texture. All the recipes have a nifty little coding system making it easy to know where you are in the recipe: prepping, mixing, baking, storing, etc… I was so happy to be able to test Anita’s recipes and have a copy of her book that I asked her if she'd be ok answering a few questions that popped in my head while I was baking. Here are a couple to get your appetite going. For the rest of the interview, check the next issue of Desserts Magazine coming out next week.

Dark Chocolate Crinckles

Dark Chocolate Crinkles - Before and After

Tartelette: As the introduction states it, this book is about more than just cookies, but also tea cakes and small bites. How did you decide which ones would make it into the book?
Anita: Even though 100 cookies sounds like a lot, it was tricky to decide which ones would make it and which ones would be cut. My editor and I wanted to cover as many styles of cookies as possible, and include ones that maybe many people had not heard of. On the other hand, since the book was primarily targeted for a North American audience, we needed to include many of the classics familar to most people and not scare them away with too many strange and unknown cookies. I hope I found a balance between many traditional favorites like chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin, but also the more exotic and international, like macarons and pizzelles.

Tartelette: Which aspects of the writing experience did you like best? Baking, testing, researching?
Anita: I really enjoyed researching the cookies. Since this cookbook is a little different than most other cookbooks with the longer entries, I needed to do a lot more research than just looking up recipes: I needed to find out where the cookie had originated, who first made them, how it evolved through time. I definitely boned up on my world history doing research on this book! Of course, I also enjoyed testing the recipes - my one biggest wish is that I had more time to test the recipes, because you always think of something else to tweak that might turn the recipe from good to fantastic! I had a great team of recipe testers to help me out, although sometimes I wished I had their job and could just bake all day, forget about the research and writing parts!
To be continued...

Viennese Crescents

Viennese Almond Crescents, (reprinted with permission of the author)(first picture also)
Makes about 2 dozen cookies

1/2 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vanilla sugar (I used powdered sugar), for coating

Sift together the ground almonds and confectioners’ sugar in a bowl.
In a stand mixer, beat butter on medium speed for several minutes until smooth.
Add in the almond mixture and mix until combined. Add in the vanilla and almond extracts and mix until combined. Add in the flour and salt and mix on low just until combined and the dough starts clumping together.
Turn dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, wrap tightly, and chill for about 20 minutes.
When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a few cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Form dough into 1-inch balls. Roll into a log and curve the ends to make a crescent shape. Place on cookie sheets about 1 1/2 inches apart.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through; the edges of the cookies should turn light brown but the tops should not get too dark. Cool sheets on wire racks for about 4 to 5 minutes. While they are still warm, roll cookies in the vanilla sugar to coat. Let them finish cooling on wire racks. They are best enjoyed the day they are made, but you can store them in an airtight container between sheets of wax paper for 2 weeks.

Algerian Tarts

Algerian Almond Tarts, (reprinted with permission of the author).
Yield: About 2 1/2 dozen cookies

Pastry:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs
2 tablespoon rosewater or orange flower water
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Filling:
3 cups sliced almonds
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 teaspoons rosewater or orange flower water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Topping:
1/2 cup honey
Pine nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a few cookie sheets or line with silicone baking mats.
In a stand mixer, combine the flour and salt. With the mixer running on low speed, gradually add butter, egg, vanilla, rosewater, and lemon juice. Mix for a few minutes until dough is smooth. Cover dough with a damp cloth and set aside while you make the filling.
Using a food processor, grind almonds and sugar to a fine meal. Add eggs, lemon zest, rosewater, and vanilla and process until all ingredients are evenly incorporated.
Roll out dough to about 1/16” on a lightly floured surface. Using a 2 to 3 inch cookie cutter to cut out circles from the dough.
Drop tablespoonfuls of filling into the center of each circle. Wet fingers with water and pinch the dough together into four corners, forming a cup around the filling. Or, if you have a mini muffin tin or other small molds, you can fit the dough circles into the molds and fill about 3/4 full with the filling.
Place tarts on sheets. Bake for 20 minutes, rotating cookie sheets halfway through until filling begins to brown and the cookies are a light golden color.
Remove sheets from oven and place on wire racks. Drizzle honey over each of the tarts. Let tarts cool on sheets before serving. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Indian Cookies

Indian Almond Cookies, (reprinted with permission of the author).
Makes about 3 dozen cookies

2 cups blanched almonds
2 tablespoons milk (I did have to use 2 extra tablespoons because my dough was really dry)
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder
Silver foil

In a food processor or blender, grind blanched almonds to a fine powder. Add milk and mix until a smooth paste is acquired.
In a heavy saucepan, combine the paste, sugar, and cardamom at medium-low heat, constantly stirring to avoid burning; stir 8 minutes or until a lump of dough is formed.
Spread the dough onto a lightly greased jelly roll pan or baking dish, flour or grease a rolling pin, and and gently roll the dough to approximately 1/4 inch thick. Apply silver foil and press slightly with the foil’s paper packaging or a paper towel so that the silver adheres to the dough.
As the dough cools, its texture resembles that of marzipan. Once it has completely cooled, cut it into 1–2 inch diamond shapes. They will keep up to 1 week if sealed in an airtight container.


Pecan Sandies, (reprinted with permission of the author) Perfect for Christmas!
Makes 2-3 dozen

1 1/2 cups pecans, toasted
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
About 30 pecan halves for decorating

Kitchen Note: the day I made these we had 100% humdity so my dough never got firm enough to even roll into a log and I ended up doing drop cookies instead. Turned out perfect.

Grind pecans and sugars together in a food processor until the nuts are finely ground. Add in the flour and salt and process until combined. Cut the butter into small pieces and scatter over the mixture in the food processor. Process until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Add egg and vanilla and process until the dough comes together.
Turn dough out onto a piece of parchment paper or silicone baking mat. Roll out to about 1/4 in thick. Sprinkle the dough with a little flour if it gets too sticky.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for about 1 hour or until firm.
When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 325°F. Line several cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Using a cookie cutter, cut out cookies from the chilled dough, about 2 inches in diameter. Place a pecan half in the center of each cookie.
Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until the edges of the cookies turn golden brown, rotating cookie sheets halfway through. Cool cookie sheets on wire racks for a couple of minutes before transferring cookies directly onto wire racks with a spatula to finish cooling.Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Do not miss the entire tour which you can follow as the book travels around the world:
Nov. 11th - Jen of use real butter
Nov. 12th - Ari of Baking and Books
Nov. 13th - Sara of Ms. Adventures in Italy
Nov. 14th - Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice
Nov. 17th - Tartelette
Nov. 18th - Veronica of Veronica's Test Kitchen
Nov. 19th - Aran of Cannelle et Vanille
Nov. 20th - Bea of La Tartine Gourmande
Nov. 21st - Peabody of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody
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