Perfect Party Cake: Dorie And The Daring Bakers

183

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Party Cake-Copyright Tartelette 2008 It was bound to happen that one of these days the Daring Bakers would tackle a Dorie Greenspan recipe. Her last volume, Baking From My Home To Yours is filled with delightful, well written and fail proof desserts, pastries and treats. I had my share of baking from her book and I was delighted when Morven, our host for March announced that we would all be making her Perfect Party Cake. I have made it several times this year for different birthday parties and occasions and I have fallen in love with the textures and tastes of both the cake and the buttercream. I believe it has become the cake I use the most for building tiered cakes or "party cakes".

Since I always make it according to the person's wishes when he/she orders, I rarely get the chance to play around with the decorations or flavors. Not this time! Boy, did I have a blast with this one! It's been a while since I selfishly made a cake with all the ingredients that I like. I appreciate that we could take liberties from the original recipe and add our own touch with the fillings, shapes and decorations for this Perfect Party Cake.
There was no special occasion in sight when I made the cake at the beginning of the month, so I went for four 4 inches round ones rather than one large one. That became of a great advantage when my neighbor decided to host an impromptu birthday party for her twins' little friends, twins also this afternoon. All I had to do was thaw the filled cakes and the buttercream last night and decorate this morning. The two different cakes pictured in this post were made earlier this month but I kept the same decorating idea for the twin girls. Perfectly girly and yet different enough that they would each have their own. Worked like a charm!!

Party Cake-Copyright Tartelette 2008
I love (small word) rhubarb and when I saw the perfect red stalks making an appearance on the market shelves earlier this month, I bought a whopping 10 pounds of them and made preserves to be used in different desserts throughout the year. The original recipe for the Perfect Party Cake uses raspberry as the filling in the cake layers but I could not resist using the fresh rhubarb jam I had just made. That was until B. got word of my plan and gave me the "I don't like rhubarb" story all over again. Either he bit into a raw stalk one time or I just don't get it....with plenty of sugar rhubarb is just heaven to me. Must be his aversion to shreds and strands, but I'' go back to that later. I hesitated for a minute and then remembered the jar of Chocolate and Raspberry jam that Guillemette had sent me along with the pink praline and that I was saving for a special occasion. The Daring Bakers' monthly post is a special occasion so there you go! We had the perfect "His and Hers Perfect Party Cake"

The other little flavor playing around that I did was to replace the lemon zest in the cake batter and the lemon juice in the cake buttercream with Meyer lemon zest and Meyer lemon juice. It was a nice and subtle citrus addition, milder than regular lemon enhancing the rhubarb and chocolate-raspberry without being bitter or harsh. For the tops of the cake, I parted from Dorie's recipe once more as she uses grated coconut to decorate the cake and I live with an anti coconut husband. It is not so much the flavor but once again it is the consistency "all those shreds!"...ah well, honey you are in for a rude life with me....but once I got started with the chocolate I made enough for two cakes, so no coconut for me either (that gives me the excuse to make the cake again!). The chocolate shavings are white chocolate and pink tinted white chocolate melted and swirled together on a slab, left to cool and then scraped to obtain shavings.

Party Cake-Copyright Tartelette 2008
As you can see I love dots, polka dots, mini dots, big dots...more dots! I made a batch of small macarons, some pink, some red, some swirled for one cake and with the other I tinted the buttercream and used a large and a small plain tip to pipe dots. The macarons went on the rhubarb cake and the dots on the chocolate-raspberry one, happy happy!!! Now that I think about it I bet that a rose flavored buttercream would have been great with the rhubarb. Again, there is always next time!!
Thank you Lisa and Ivonne for the tremendous work you do each month to keep this group going! Thanks again Morven for a great time in the kitchen! Please check out all the other Daring Bakers' creations.

Party Cake-Copyright Tartelette 2008
Perfect Party Cake, adapted from Dorie Greenspan:

Printable Recipe

For the Cake:
2 1/4 cups cake flour (1 cup cake flour = 1 cup all purpose - 2 Tbs)
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole buttermilk
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated Meyer lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream:
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh Meyer lemon juice

For Finishing:
1/2 cup seedless chocolate - raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable (for 2 cakes)
1/2 rhubarb preserves (for the other 2 cakes)
About 1 ½ cups white chocolate shavings
Macarons


Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 4 4-inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.Whisk together the buttermilk and egg whites in a medium bowl.Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the buttermilk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the buttermilk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Divide the batter between the four pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean.
Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream:
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan 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 shiny marshmallow cream.
Remove the bowl from the heat. Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick 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. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more. You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cakes: (directions for one, repeat for the other 3)
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread it with one third of the preserves. Cover the jam evenly with a layer of buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer. Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top. Press the chocolate shavings into the frosting, patting it gently. Tint some remaining buttercream with your favorite colors and pipe large and small dots of different colors with plain decorating tips. You can also decorate with macarons (recipe here)

Serving:
The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.
Storing:
The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.

Raspberry And Lime Mascarpone Mousse Cakes

65

Thursday, March 27, 2008


We celebrated Easter with B.'s family, a small and quiet gathering on the beach, very much unlike the gatherings in my family back home. There was plenty to share and although I offered to bring something for dessert, my sister-in-law said I could take the day off, she'd take care of it. Doesn't she realized that it really does not bother me and I am actually looking forward to making something? I am sure those of you who like to cook and bake have found themselves in this position. When you love food, it's not work, it's a pleasure. Oh well, I still wanted to make something for us and took the opportunity of the "Exchange Dinner" we host each year to make these Raspberry and Lime Mascarpone Mousse Cakes.

What is the "Exchange Dinner" you ask? Well, I came to the US as an exchange student about 11 years ago and I was an exchange student doing my Masters here for one year. Long story short, I met B. here a few weeks before I was supposed to go home "forever" and although I did go home, it was not too long before we each were making a couple of overseas trips "to figure this one out"....As you can see we figured it out pretty fast and I moved here permanently a few months after we met. This little tidbit is essential to the dinner in question: as an exchange student, I remember that one of the holidays that made me the most homesick was Easter (most of us make it home for Christmas). The weather is gorgeous, the flowers are all in bloom, everybody is in a chirpy mood, and we feel a little or a lot out of place. We are filled with mixed emotions: the semester is nearing its end, we'll have to buckle down on our dissertation, pack soon and say goodbye to friends and yet, we realise how much we miss everybody back home and how we wish we could hope over for a nice Eater celebration. Being a professor at the College, B. has the chance to meet the exchange student from my old University and we try to help them get set up the best we can and to give the a crash course on American matters, and the South specifically. I remembered the way I felt over Easter and decided a few years ago to host a little gatherings around that time for the two students who are now in the shoes I wore a while back. So there it is, the "Exchange Dinner".

Nothing screams Spring more than light and fluffy lime mousse studded with raspberries, especially when it is set on a light base of Angel Food Cake. Our guests had never tried that type of cake before so it was quite a lesson in American desserts that they got that night...that was to be expected when you dine with a baker and a History professor, we can be so nerdy sometimes!! The girls loved it and both asked for the recipe to make back home. The desserts itself calls for only four slices cut out from the cake so you might be tempted to buy a box mix or one already made. Resist! There is nothing like homemade Angel Food Cake and it is actually easy and fun to make also. The lime mousse is the same one I used here, inspired by a blogger I have been reading for a long time, Mercotte. When I was unmolding the cakes, I kept thinking I had seen them before on someone's blog, not the exact same one but the same concept and look. Light bulb moment as I was hopping in bed: Bea had made them, also inspired by Mercotte. Ah! Tout s'explique! (it all comes together now). I guess that if the three of us ever meet, she'll know what to make us for dessert!


Raspberry Mousse Cake: serves 4

4 slices angel food cake (1 inch thick), recipe below
Lime Mascarpone Mousse
1 pint fresh raspberries
1 piece raspberry fruit leather (I used these), cut 4 thin strips
1/2 recipe Blood Orange Syrup

Angel Food Cake:
18 egg whites
1 pinch salt
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup cake flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon lemon extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Sift cake flour and confectioners sugar together and set aside.
In a large clean bowl, whip egg whites with a pinch of salt until foamy. Gradually add sugar while beating, and continue to beat until very stiff. Add the lemon extract.
Slowly fold in the flour mixture. Pour into a 10 inch tube pan.
Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 45 minutes. Remove it from the oven and invert the pan and set it over a longneck bottle (water or wine). It is necessary to invert the pan when making angel food cake because while it cools, the weight of the cake is enough to collapse it. Upside-down, the weight of the cake will keep the cake tall. Elevated cookie cooling racks also work fine, like these. Release the cake from the pan when it is completely cooled.

For the dessert, cut 4 slices from the cake and with a 3 inch pastry ring cut 4 rounds out of the cake slices. Cut strips of parchement paper about 2 inches taller than the rings (you'll need 4 or you can use 3 inch in diameter rings cut from pvc pipe) and place them inside the rings,place the rings on a baking sheet. Put the cake rounds at the bottom and divide the rapsberries among the rings.

Lime Mascarpone Mousse:
1 egg, separated
2 TB sugar
2 oz mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
75 ml. heavy cream
1 tsp. powdered gelatin (1/2 sheet) + 1 Tb water
zest and juice of one lime

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water, stir and let sit to bloom. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the mascarpone with the sugar, add 1 egg yolk and whisk until well incorporated. Heat the gelatin for about 10 seconds in the microwave and quickly whisk it in the mascarpone batter. Add the lemon juice and zest. Whip the egg white until stiff, fold into the mascarpone mixture. Whip the heavy cream to medium stiff peaks, and fold into the mascarpone. Divide it evenly and carefully among the pastry rings, trying not to disturb the rapsberries. Let sit in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours. Slowly remove the rings, and peel off the parchement paper very carefully. Pour some blood orange syrup on top and let it slide down the sides.

To decorate, twist the raspberry fruit strips and anchor them down in the cakes.

I have been watching the Click photography event for some months now but I always seem to miss the deadline. When I read the theme for March was "metal", I did let the idea sprout in my mind for a while, not sure of what I could enter if I decided too. Then, I thought about the most used metal item in my kitchen, my whisk. I am one of those weirdos who like to whisk egg whites (except 18 for angel food cake, let's be honest), whipped cream, batters and such by hand. So here it is my first entry, my whisk for Click, created by Jai and Bee.

Chocolate Caramel Mousse - Date Night

70

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I was trying my best to pretend Christophe was not around the house....avoiding his mischievous glance on my way to the kitchen, grazing my hand on the shiny cover and yet preventing myself from leafing through the pages filled with gorgeous photographs and fun recipes. One night though, I found myself alone in the house and tempted by the promises of silky chocolate mousse, I gave in. I have always been pretty forward with my beaus (ask B. and he will tell you that the first thing I told you was "You're sexy" instead of "You're sweet" when we met - he'd tell the truth), and when there is chocolate, well I guess you don't need a visual...except Christophe was not going to get the best of me this time and leave me wondering again if he was the man for me. After making his Chocolate-Caramel Mousse, I think we might go steady for a while.

I was really intrigued by Christophe's mousse, particularly the ingredients and since there was just the two of us in the kitchen that evening, it was all quiet and calm and I thought we would get along better....no distraction meant that we could dance to the sound of bubbling caramel and not have a care in the world for a short while. The mousse I usually make is rich and yet nothing extravagant: melt chocolate, add butter, add egg yolks, whip egg whites with sugar, add whipped cream, fold and eat. But this is Christophe and we are on a date...His mousse is lighter due to his use of 2% milk, less egg, milk chocolate to add a touch of sweetness and very little butter. It is almost liquid when you pour it into a cup, dish or other but sets up to a beautiful silky cloud of paradise. I see some of you ready to come tell me about the danger of eating raw eggs. Stop right there. I will continue to eat the way and foods I was raised upon, including vats of egg filled mousse if I can (if it works for 97 year-old Grandpa Rene, I'll take my chance) I respect your opinion, really I do, but do you really know what tomorrow holds? Yeah...neither do I....except maybe "more mousse!" :)

The caramel part of the recipe? Well, that was Christophe little secret move...You have to earn your right to the mousse as you wait to let it set but oh my! that little bit of creamy caramel layer is just a great contrast in texture and flavor to the bittersweet chocolate layer. B, jealous of my little evening with Christophe, made the (bad) joke that we had invited Pierre Herme as the chaperon. Indeed, I layered the mousse and caramel cream on the diagonal, like I did with my adaptation of his Sensation Satine. I made enough caramel cream for only two servings but mousse for four people so I used empty and washed egg shells to pour it into and topped all with some crushed toffee. I ended up polishing both little jars which left B. with the eggs without caramel...sorry, bad pastry jokes are against the company's policies(!).

Chocolate-Caramel Mousse: Serves 4

For the Caramel Cream Layer:

40 gr sugar
100 ml water
150 ml heavy cream at room temperature
1 tsp powdered gelatin
1 Tb water
pinch of salt

In a heavy saucepan, bring the sugar and water to 180C (358F) or to a dark amber caramel if you do not have a thermometer, over medium high heat. Be careful, if it turns too dark it will be bitter. Lower the heat and add the cream and stir until fully incorporated. Do not worry if it hisses at you and starts bubbling like crazy, it calms down after a few seconds. Remove from the heat. Pour the gelatin over the tablespoon of water and let it bloom for a couple of minutes. Stir it into the caramel and stir to dissolve. Pour into your selected dishes in the manner described here if you wish, or just let it be your bottom layer. Let set for 2 hours.

For the Dark Chocolate Mousse Layer:

1/2 cup (125ml) 2% milk
100 gr bittersweet chocolate (chips or chopped)
25 gr milk chocolate (same)
1 egg yolk
15 gr butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (125 ml) heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks

Bring the milk to a boil in heavy saucepan. Add the chocolate, let stand a couple of minutes. Stir gently until the chocolate is melted and fully incorporated. The mixture should be at 45C (128F) when you add the egg yolk, if it is colder it might seize. Whisk in the butter. Add the whipped cream and fold delicately. Pour into your dishes and tilt them in the manner described here if you wish, or just let it be your top layer. Let set for 2 hours.
Top with crushed toffee if desired before serving.

Pain d'Epices Creme Brulee

41

Saturday, March 22, 2008


Macarons are great, no doubt about it, the only caveat when you make them on a regular basis is that you are left with quite a lot of egg yolks. B. will tell you that this is never a real problem and when you consider the endless possibilities if egg yolks based desserts, I'd say he is right. Custards, creme anglaise, pots de cremes, zabaglione, chocolate mousse, etc...and of course cremes brulees!

I have had the same relationship with cremes brulees as I have had with macarons. I love to make macarons, but did not start really liking eatng them until a couple of years ago when I let my imagination free and started to play with fillings, toppings, centers, etc...It was kind of the same with creme brulees. The owner of the restaurant I worked for hated two things: cinnamon and flavored creme brulees. The custards had to remain as plain as possible and since I had to make close to 100 a day I quickly started to hate making them, but still loved eating some whenever we went to diner somewhere. As soon as the owners would go on vacation or took a night out, you can be sure that I was playing with the liquor cabinet and the fruit purees!!

When my mother came to visit she brought with her a couple of syrups I had been eyeing for some time and while I have not completely figured out what to do with some of them, I knew this "Liqueur de Pain d'Epices" would end up in a custard of some sort. Pain d'epices is one of those traditional French cakes that as a child you either love or hate. I happen to love it with a passion.
According to The French Food and Cook, "Pain d'épices originally comes from China and was imported in France in the Middle Ages, in particular in East France, with the cities of Dijon and Reims as leading producers. Today, pain d'épices remains a specialty of Eastern France (Dijon, Alsace…). Pain d'épices that usually contents 30% of honey is very energetic and was considered as a very good medicine." The common spice blend found in the cake loaf is usually a combination of orange peel, anise seeds, cinnamon, coves and sometimes juniper berries. I like that I was already self-medicating at a young age with cakes...

The liqueur itself had definite notes of cloves and anise and was somewhat reminiscent of Bailey's with a note of orange peel in color and texture. Pretty darn good! The recipe for the creme brulee is my usual standard one; you can add pretty much anything you like to flavor and it turns out smooth and creamy everytime. There is nothing better than the crackling sound your spoon makes when you hit that burnt sugar crust..hmmhmmhmm. I strongly recommend you invest in a blow torch which you can find at any hardware store. Not only will you get great crusts everytime, but you can also use it for meringue pies for example. I find that a combination of granulated sugar and brown sugar helps achieve a tasty crust that is easy to "burn" heavenly.


For the Creme Brulee: serves 4

1 cup egg yolks (between 6 and 8 depending on the size of your eggs)
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup liqueur de pain d'epices, or any other liqueur of your liking
1/4 cup brown sugar mixed with 1/4 cup white sugar for brulee topping

Preheat oven to 350F. Place 4 ramequins inside a roasting pan and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until pale yellow. Heat the cream until scalding hot. Slowly whisk it into the egg yolk mixture, mix well, but not too vigorously or you will add too much air. Pour into a container and let cool to room temperature. Pass the mixture through a sieve in a container with a spout (the spout is not necessary but it makes pouring easier), and divide among the 4 ramequins. Pour water to about halfway up the sides of the ramequins and put the pan in the oven. Cook for about 20 minutes or until the mixture appear almost set, it should still wiggle a bit in the middle. It is ok to remove the pan from the oven at that point as the custard will continue to bake and set. Let cool to room, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. Right before serving: divide sugar on top of each custard and use a blow torch to caramelise the top or put the pan under the broiler.
In my family we say that a good creme brulee is hot on top, room temp in the middle and cold at the bottom.

Last thing: the dishes are minis that my mother sent me the other day so I ended up with 8 minis but they were the perfect 2 bite treats with coffee.

Happy Easter!

Swirly Macarons And A Birthday

111

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I guess I really can't be left alone... or my mind start playing tricks on me. Last Sunday I was working on a wedding cake for a friend of mine getting married this coming weekend when she called and asked me for the thousandth time if I had also started working on her wedding favors. "Yes" I replied "and may I add that I must really love you and F.?" "Why is that?" she asked... "because of all that blue...I think I am losing my mind". The theme of her wedding is a beach/lagoon sea and ghastly as I found her idea to have a lot of blue, I agreed to do it all, including macarons for wedding favors. Why can't I be left alone? Well, it seems that my brain has short circuits because not only did I agree to make a lot of them (300) I started playing on the ocean theme and decided to swirl the white and blue batters together and ended up with these Swirly Macs. I think I had moment of lucidity when I decided to only swirl half the bunch and sandwich them with a plain side. Half a genius is still better than none!!

It is funny but the more I am swirling them the more they are growing on me. And that is where the second part of the post comes in. Today is my wonderful brother's birthday. His name is Arnaud and I guess that like the macarons, the more we were hanging out together the more we were growing on each other. He is a wonderful guy, husband and father to my two precious little nieces and all around awesome dude and cook. I never realised how much I loved him until a few years ago when B. and I went back to France for Christmas. We visited him and his wife before they had the girls and we went out one night together to share a good cassoulet. We sat there and I had the most overwhelming feeling in my heart. I was sitting across from him, staring at this grown up man with a wedding ring on his fingers, talking to my husband in such a warm and natural manner. He loved me. I could not stop the tears. I loved him back.

We could not be more different in characters and lifestyle and growing up we were seriously harsh on each other but we shared so much in the past few years that we know now how to love and respect each other. I know losing our brother to cancer was a tough wake up call, but so were the births of his children, the distance between us and the other events marking our family. Today I want to publicly wish him a "Joyeux Anniversaire" and show him that our relationship may be as swirly as those macarons sometimes but he is the other half of me. Yep, the same guy who bit a chunk out of my thighs when I was 4 and I was probably getting right nerve under his last nerve (I still have the mark, no lie).

Let's all wish him a Joyeux Anniversaire Arnaud! Mille bises de nous tous!

I wish I could send them overseas but I can't...they will however be part of a small gifts table at my friend's wedding. I think I will save some and send them to Danielle who is hosting Sugar High Friday this month with the theme of Sweet Gifts (and I am not only speaking of the virtual world:))


Swirly Macarons With Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache:

For the Macarons:

3 egg whites (I like to use 2-3 day old egg whites)
50 gr. granulated sugar
200 gr. powdered sugar
110 gr. ground almonds
2 Ts blue powdered food coloring

For the whites: the day before (24hrs), separate your eggs and store the whites at room temperature on 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 and your macarons won't work. Combine the ground almonds and powdered sugar in a food processor and give them a quick pulse. It will break the powdered sugar lumps and combine your almonds with it evenly. Add them to the meringue, give it a quick fold and remove some of the batter that will remain uncolored. Add 2 TB food coloring to the rest and 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. Do the same for the plain batter.s
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip with the batter and pipe small rounds (1.5 inches in diameter) onto parchment paper baking sheets.
With a toothpick dab dots of the plain batter and swirl.
Preheat the oven to 300F. Let the macarons sit out for an hour to harden their shells a bit and bake for 8-10 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. Pipe or spoon some ganache on one shell and sandwich with another one.
If you use fresh whites, zap them up in the microwave on medium high for 20 seconds.

Bittersweet ganache:

3/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup bittersweet chocolate

In a heavy saucepan set over medium heat, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the stove and add the chocolate to it. Let stand 2 minutes and then stir until fully combined. Let cool until firm enough to put in a small piping bag.



Notes: Today march 2oth is the "Journee du Macaron" when numerous pastry shops around France, Swiss and Belgium offer free samples all day long! Lucky you's!!!

I receive a lot of emails about breaking the code of making macarons and I am working on a tutorial with step by step pictures. Coming soon!

Sweet Melissa Lemon Blueberry Buttermilk Pie & Winners

42

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Not only does Melissa Murphy's latest book satisfies my cravings for bakery sweets but it also fulfills my love for all things citrusy. I wish I could show you how good her Lemon Squares are but I am afraid I only have the crumbs on our plates to show for it as they were devoured faster than I could take a picture. I had to hide the Lemon Blueberry Tartlets pictured to avoid the same "problem" (eating is never a problem in our neighborhood). I bookmarked the original recipe Lemon Blueberry Pie the first time I flipped through the book for plenty of delicious reasons: it had lemon, buttermilk, blueberries (the freezer is stock full of them) and I could make minis for a dinner party. They lasted for about 5 minutes and then our guests asked to come back next week for another try-out from the book (Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Torte anyone?)

Before I give you the recipe, I know you are awaiting to read if your name got pick to receive one of the 5 copies the publishers were giving away and this is great news for the winners. Thank you all for your participation, I know Melissa must be thrilled about it! I have got even more good news for the 250-ish of you who showed up for the event....keep on reading.....

I need the following people to send me their mailing address at mytartelette(@)gmail(dot)com so we can get the books on their way to ya'll's kitchen!
Congratulations to:
- Steph from Stephanie's Kitchen
- The Coffee Snob from Eat and Be Happy
- Merav from A Tasteful Journey
- Kevin from Closet Cooking
- Ginny from Just Get Floury

The good news? Ariela from Baking and Books is also holding a giveaway for another 5 copies!! So...if your name did not get picked this time around, run to her blog and put your name in the hat once more! Who knows?!



Lemon Blueberry Buttermilk Pie
Reprinted with permission from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy.

Blueberries really need to be offset by something tart to taste their best. This pie
is so delicious because the rich tang of buttermilk and fresh lemon juice shows off
plump ripe blueberries. This one is really fun and easy to make.

Makes one 10-inch pie (or 8 minis)

For The Pie:

1 prebaked 10-inch piecrust made from All-Butter Pie Dough (1/2 of the recipe below)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch, sifted
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

For The Blueberry Topping:

1/4 cup apricot preserves
1 tablespoon water
1 1/2 dry pints fresh blueberries, picked through, stems discarded


All Butter Pie Dough:

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 Tb sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
6-8 Tb ice water

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar baking powder and salt. Add the butter pieces, tossing with your figers to coat them with the flour. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter ito the flour util it is the size of large peas. Sprinkle 6 Tb of the water over the mixture and toss with a fork. The dough whould hold together when you squeeze it in your hand. If it is too dry, add the rest of the water.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Pat it together in one piece. Divide the dough into 2 equal parts, flatten each into a disk and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling. When ready to use, roll it out and fit a pie pan with the dough, prick with a fork. Cover with parchment paper and fill with beans or pastry weights. Bake at 350F for 20 minutes or so.

Position a rack in the center of your oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, butter, eggs, vanilla, buttermilk, zest, and lemon juice until smooth. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the prebaked pie shell.
Place the pie plate on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the custard is set. Remove to a wire rack to cool to room temperature before topping with the blueberries.

To Make The Blueberry Topping

In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the apricot preserves and the water until melted. Strain through a fine-meshed strainer into a medium bowl. Add the blueberries and, using a rubber spatula, stir gently to coat. Pile the blueberries on top of the pie.
Serve the pie chilled or at room temperature. It keeps tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Sweet Melissa's Blueberry Muffins and Carrot Cake & Books Giveaway

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

I have really felt like I have been on a mini vacation this past week, baking my way through The Sweet Melissa Baking Book, written by Melissa Murphy, owner and pastry chef of Sweet Melissa Bakery in New York city. When I received the book for preview I was really excited to finally make some of her creations in my own kitchen. I have been a fan of her work for a long time and promised myself I would straight to her bakery if I ever made it to New York one day. Well, it was even better this past week because I took a trip there four times in four days! I have tried to do a thorough review of the book for you guys but the best part is at the end of this post where I have the chance to give away 5 copies of this new book!

The book is a right along the line as a classic baking book filled with hundreds of recipes of every body's favorites. This is the kind of book that references all the basic and classic American standards but often with a little spin to it (like an orange flavored cream cheese frosted carrot cake). Fans of the bakery are able to make some of their bestsellers right in their house at the spur of the moment and others like me can rely on a thoroughly written book for all the things that make a bakery a success. Out of the four recipes I have tried so far, (Blueberry Muffins, Lemon bars, Lemon Blueberry Buttermilk Pie, Carrot Cake) all turned out perfect and delicious and there are plenty more I am dying to try like the cashew bar that Jennifer recently posted about.

For the sake of doing a true to the author's work review, I baked the recipes as written and everything not only turned out delicious but I never once had to scratch my head saying "not sure I would have given the instructions like that, but eh..." I liked the book on so many different levels. If you are a novice baker, this is definitely the book to get to get you started in the kitchen, if you are a seasoned baker you will certainly enjoy revisiting the classics as well as childhood favorites. Each chapter is chock full of life and love for sugar, butter and flour!

How does Sweet Potato Bread With Cinnamon Rum Glaze sound from the chapter "Dessert for breakfast"? It also has some terrific recipes for muffins, quick breads, waffles and more. "After School Snacks" has been thoroughly studied by me husband bookmarking Snickerdoodles and Chestnut Honey Madeleines among the dozens of brownies, cookies and bars. I have been studying the chapter "It's Somebody's Birthday" closely lately as we have a few family members coming up with serious celebrating time and the Fluffy Coconut Cake With Passion Fruit Filling is high on my priority list! I can't wait for B 's birthday to make the Chocolate Malted Layer Cake!
If you have read this blog for a while now, you know of my produce guy Sunny who seems to download all his surplus fruits into my cart!

I found my happiness in "What Will We Do With All This Fruit" making the Lemon Blueberry Buttermilk Pie (recipe next week) and I can't wait to try her Sour Cherry Pie With Pistachio Crumble. Now the recipe that really made it for us was the Carrot Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting in the chapter entitled "Sunday Supper Grand Finale". I love carrot cakes that are simple in ingredients and yet very moist. We are not big fan of pineapples in ours, and B. has an aversion for raisins so it was quite a delight to make Melissa's version that excludes both but remains delicately moist and the frosting really gave the cake another dimension. What about a Fallen Chocolate Souffle Cake or a Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie? I know! I can't stop!! To end things on a strong sugar high, the final chapter is devoted to "Favorite Gifts" like Butter Toffee Crunch, Earl Grey Truffles, Peanut Praline, just to name a few!

Blueberry Muffins (Makes 12)

2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 Tb plus 1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 stick butter, melted
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature
zest of 1 lemon
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 Tb granulated sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350F and line a muffin pan with muffin liners, coat with cooking spray.
In a large blow, whisk together the flour, baking powder granulated sugar and salt. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, brown sugar, and eggs until smooth. Whisk in the heavy cream and milk until combined.
Add the zest to the flour mixture and with your hands, gently rub the mixture together, releasing the oils and breaking up the bits. Add the fresh fruit and gently toss with your fingers to combine. Make a well in the center of the bowl. Pour the butter mixture into the center of the well and using a spatula, gently pull the flour mixture into the center of the well until just combined.
Divide the batter among the muffin cups, filling each until 3/4s of the way up. Bake 30-35 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with sugar and let cool on a wire rack.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Carrot Cake With Orange Cream Cheese Frosting:

For the cake:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 ½ Tb ground cinnamon
¾ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
4 large eggs
¾ cup vegetable oil
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 pound carrots, grated medium fine
¾ cup chopped walnuts

For the frosting:
12 oz cream cheese softened
2 1/ 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
Zest of 1 orange
2 sticks butter, softened
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and flour two 8x2-inch round cake pans. Line each pan with an 8-inch round piece of parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and baking powder.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment, beat the eggs at high speed until light and frothy, about one minute. Decrease the speed to medium and add the oil, sugar and salt and mix just until combines. Decrease the speed to low and add the flour mixture until jut combined. Using a spatula, fold in the carrots and walnuts.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans. Tap the pans one against the other to level the top and eliminate air bubbles. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove and let cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes before turning the layers out onto the rack. Cool completely before frosting.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, sugar and zest. Start on low speed and then increase to medium high speed and beat until smooth. Add the butter and mix on medium speed until just fluffy and smotth, about 45 seconds. Add the vanilla and mix until just combined. Do not overbeat.

To assemble:
Use the frosting as both the filling and the frosting so divide some evenly between both layer and use the remaining to cover the sides and top.
I made 4 small ones (4-inch round) and use the frosting just in between the layer and also to cover them all. I split each layer in half so I had a total of four which is to me a little nicer on the eye.


Book Giveaway: I am really excited to be able to give away 5 copies of the book to you guys...Yes! Thanks to the great folks at the Penguin Group/Viking Studio, one book can be yours! All you have to do is leave a comment to this post between now and monday 3pm and I'll let the Random Number Generator pick 5 lucky recipients. I will announce the winners on Tuesday 3/18 as well as tell you about another fantastic recipe from the book.

Vanilla Vanilla Cupcakes

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

First, I wanted to thank you all for sharing your pet stories when I posted about our collie/sheltie Tippy and the great demise of the cinnamon buns. It really brightened my weekend and brought on a couple of welcome laughs! Those animals sure are unbelievable!!

Now, the Vanilla Vanilla Cupcakes... B's mom called Monday night and we started to chat about everything and nothing as we usually do, and she started to beat around the bush, as she usually does, about needing me to bake something for her garden club. She is a talented baker but she does not get in the kitchen much nowadays, and she knows I am happy to give her and "her ladies" a hand whenever I can. I usually try to fit the cake, treats, and sweets to the theme of their meeting, but when she pronounced the words "Easter" I admit I drew a blank. I am still warming up to Peeps and Chicks (nothing wrong there just different countries different candies) and really beside liking the colors I don't think I wanted to make a bunny cake or something like that (nothing wrong there either). I hung up and went outside to consult with my favorite baking associates, the Twins. We sat down on the sidewalk and after a good ten minutes of dreaming out loud about their favorite desserts, I asked them their favorite questions "So, what do you think I should bake?" They both said vanilla cupcakes with yellow frosting and tons of sprinkles.

They got very distracted by the two little girls at the end of the street so I went on baking and told them to come later help me with the sprinkles. I think it was the loudest "Yeah!" I had ever heard!! I don't know if they were more excited about the little girls or the sprinkles. In my perfect little world I don't think I want to know!!

While I was getting all the ingredients ready, I remembered that one of my favorite bloggers, Arfi from HomeMades was hosting a Cupcake Spectacular this month. Very timely! For the cupcakes I went with the tried and true Vanilla ones from Magnolia Bakery and Rose Levy Berembaum mousseline buttercream. I could eat both together or separately by the bucket... I went for minis for a couple of reasons: I love treats that fit in the palm of my hand and the ladies at the garden club have an easier time pretending they only ate four two. When the kids arrived for the decorating part they were really happy to empty a couple of bottles of sprinkles on the cupcakes. Their words? "Look it's raining sprinkles! Cool!"....and I now have multicolored floors!


Vanilla Vanilla Mini Cupcakes:

Makes 4 dozens minis

1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line two 24-cup muffin tins with mini cupcake papers.
Combine the flours together and sift them. Set aside.
In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. Do not overmix the batter. Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about three-quarters full (I use a mini ice cream scoop to do that) Bake for 20 minutes, or until the tip of a knife or skewer inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean.
Cool the cupcakes in the tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before frosting. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a star tip with the buttercream and pipe it on the cupcakes. Decorate with sprinkles if desired.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting:

4 sticks butter at room temperature
5 egg whites
1 cup sugar divided
1/4 cup water
2 tsp. vanilla extract
food coloring if desired

In the bowl of stand mixer, whip 5 egg whites until they have soft peaks.
In the meantime, combine 1/4 cup water with 3/4 cup 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 vanilla extract and the food coloring if using.

Frozen Rhubarb And Banana Charlottes

83

Sunday, March 09, 2008

What follows is a typical conversation you can hear at our house on a Sunday afternoon:
Me: Hey, what'cha got planned today?
Him: well, I found this electric saw (or drill, or vacuum,....) in the street and I thought I'd fix it up. You?
Me: I just picked some stuff up at the grocery store and I'd thought I'd play around a little.
Both at the same time: well, call me before you burn the house down!

We had a very similar conversation last week but this time I was on a mission. I was standing in the middle of the fruits and vegetables stands, starring at gorgeous stalks of deep red rhubarb when my friend S. called. "Remember my bridal shower next July?" Yesssssss....(can't you just tell what's coming?!) "Change of plans...it's in two weeks otherwise I'll have to throw a baby shower with it!" Yesssss "Can you think of something pretty, girlie, decadent, pink, red, white....?" Yesssss...I love S., she is the exact opposite of me in almost everything and in that regard she is the ultimate girlie girl, ultra pink and fuchsia, which makes me look like a Gothic tomboy (and if you know me, you know I am not which gives you a pretty good image of S.) Good thing I was holding pretty red rhubarb when she called and that she happens to love it too.
So here I was, back in the kitchen letting my brain do its usual selection of all the wild ideas running through my mind. A charlotte is always a pretty thing and since the weather has been very clement and her shower would be an intimate affair (12 ladies), I thought about a chilled/frozen filling. Bananas are one of my favorite ingredients for frozen mousses because they provide good body and sweetness without being too heavy. When cut in long strips and prepared just a bit, the rhubarb graciously replaces the traditional ladyfinger casing of a charlotte. While the leaves are toxic, the stalks can be used to your heart's contents but they need a good dose of sugar as they are very tart and make cranberries look weak in that department.

When working with cold or frozen individual plated desserts you can use metal pastry rings but since they are not cheap and I tend to accumulate mini pans of all shapes and sizes I rely on a big stock of different pvc pipes. Yep, hardware stores are a cook's treasure land sometimes! For a minimal fee you can select all the diameters you like and if you smile big enough (maybe throw in a little eyelash action for good measure) they might even cut the pipe for you. Since the pipe is almost indestructible, I am not worried about storage, bending or rust. To make sure the "rhubarb ladyfingers" would not stick to the plastic mold, I just lined them with parchment paper that I secured with tape. The rhubarb is cut in paper thin slices and barely softened in a low temperature oven for 10 minutes, to retain the color without caramelizing them. Once filled and frozen, the charlottes popped right out and all I had to do was to carefully peel the paper.

After the stalks, I chopped up the remaining tidbits, cooked them down with some sugar until I had a deep red puree and just stared at it mesmerized. Just kidding! Although I just wanted to spread that delicious jam on fresh toast, I thinned it down a bit and used for the plating along with some of the frozen banana filling. I topped each charlotte with caramelized banana slices and a little rhubarb bow with strips cut in the soft slices. as a homage to S's girlie-ness. She came over that night for dinner and loved it, from the presentation to the taste...Ouf! (that's French for "big sigh of relief!)....Now I have got the think about that baby shower of hers!!


Frozen Rhubarb And Banana Charlottes:

Serves 4. The molds used are 3 inches tall and 3 inches across.

For the Rhubarb "ladyfingers":
12 to 15 rhubarb stalks, cleaned and cut to measure 3 inches
1/4 cup sugar

Preheat your oven to 200F. With a sharp knife and without peeling the stalks, cut them into thin slices (1/8inch thick). Keep the ends and trimmings for later. Set them onto parchment paper lined baking sheets (or silicone ones), and sprinkle with the sugar. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let them cool completely.
Cut strips of parchment paper to fit inside the molds and carefully line the inside of the mold with the sliced rhubarb easier to do if you lay the mold on its side). Place the rings in the freezer for a couple of hours.

Frozen Banana Mousse:
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1 cup pureed bananas
1 cup heavy cream

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the egg yolks with 1/4 cup of sugar until pale and fluffy. Fold the banana puree into the yolk mixture. Whisk the egg whites until they foam and add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 Tb. at a time and continue to whip until glossy. Fold the whites into the banana mixture. Whip the cream to soft peaks and add to the banana batter. Keep about 1/4 cup of the mousse to use as a sauce for plating if desired. Spoon the mousse into the rhubarb lined rings and freeze overnight.

Caramelized Banana Slices:
Cut 2 bananas into thin slices. In a pan, melt 4 Tb sugar with 4 TB butter, and cook until the sugar is melted. Add the bananas and cook them until barely soft. Remove them from the pan and let cool. It is preferable to do these the day you plate up the whole dessert.

Options for plating:
Cook down the bits and pieces of rhubarb you have left from cutting the slices with some sugar (to taste) until soft and jam-like and let it cool completely. If it becomes too thick the next day, thin it down with a bit of water to use it as a sauce.

To Serve:
Carefully unmold the charlottes from the rings by pushing down gently from one end, peel off the parchment paper. Quickly set the room temperature banana slices on top, use some of the rhubarb jam and leftover mousse for sauces. Make a bow if you have it you (which I know you do since you all wrap presents so well) I got to tell you that was a rather sticky experience!!
You might have leftover mousse when you fill the rings. I just layered it with some cooked rhubarb and pop these in the freezer for an easy weeknight dessert.

My Dog Ate My Homework!

47


This is semi-related baking post, and I apologize for the lack of treats today but I thought I would give you the reason why: let me introduce you to Tippy -aka Tip The Ferocious. This picture was actually taken the other night when he was playing it all cool with his toys and pretending to be the nicest, least troublesome dog around. He has calmed down from the days he would snatch steaks from our plate or devour an entire sheet pan of cookie cooling on the counter top. He has even stopped chewing up the house to bits and shreds when we leave him alone (crating him was brilliant, he loves it). Now and then, when we forget to crate him and leave in a hurry he will find his way inside the trashcan and scatter the contents across the kitchen, dining room and living room. Lo-ve-ly.....!!! The crown event however was when we found him all fours on the kitchen table eating from a box of chocolate. He had that look of "Maybe if I don't move they won't see me..." We thought that was the end of it until we found the bottle of Tums half chewed up. Smartie pants!!

Well, I went upstairs to set up my tripod and camera because the light was better there this morning and when I came back downstairs to pick up the pan of No-Knead-Caramel Sticky Buns, I first noticed that he was really busy trying to lick his snout clean and then doing his usual rubbing against a washcloth. Yes! My dog washes his face every time after he eats. Freaked me out the first time he did that but now it is a great conversation topic when guests see him do that!! Then I looked toward the stove where I had set the pan to cool....and the pan was upside down on the floor...emp-ty!

Now you know what I meant by "the dog ate my homework"...I'll wait a couple more days to re bake them and post the whole recipe, maybe a complete different one on Monday. I was going to post a picture of Tippy post-bun fest but really right now he is not looking so pretty....He's been chewing grass all afternoon...Smart dog: sugar then detox!!!

I'd love to hear your pet story if you have one, they always crack me up!!
Hope you are all enjoying your weekend!

Opera Macarons, Thoughtful Gifts And An Award

46

Friday, March 07, 2008

Be prepared this is the loaded post of the weekend! Take your time reading it but there were many people I wanted to thank on this site and this is long overdue. I know I still have to answer a couple of "meme" I have been tagged for and I am saving those for next week. In the meantime, let's start at the beginning...

A couple of weeks ago, one of my favorite bloggers and fellow Daring Baker Deborah from Taste and Tell sent me an email reading that she wanted to try her hand at making macarons but she had never had one so she would not know what to look for in the texture, taste, etc... She offered to pay me to send her a box and I immediately shook my head "No, no, don't pay me, instead let's do a trade! I'll send you some macarons and you'll send me a favorite cookie or something". She agreed and although a few health and family have delayed my sending them they are finally one their way to her house. Cross your fingers that they get there un-crushed! Wednesday afternoon the mail man dropped a box full of Meyer Lemon Cookies and jar of Deborah's Peach and Vanilla jam. Thank you Deborah!

I had the idea of these macarons while making an Opera Cake for a birthday party last month. I know I am no genius and they have been done before but they were really fun to put together. I love Opera Cake so much I could have it breakfast, lunch and dinner. The basis of the cake are as follow: almond genoise layered with coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache. I love hazelnuts much more than almonds so I did 50/50 each in the macarons shells, I used an Italian meringue coffee buttercream and for the chocolate ganache layer I just piped it right in the middle of the macaron. You have to trust me when I tell you they were unbelievably satisfying and we liked them so much that I made another batch right away. We all have a different approach to macarons and I tend to start with a crispy shell: I know they will soften after a couple of days and I like the contrast between the crunch of the shell and the buttery creamy insides. But hey! That's just me!!

Opera Macarons:

For the shells:
3 egg whites (110 gr) (I like to use 2-3 day old egg whites)
40 gr. granulated sugar
200 gr. powdered sugar
55 gr. ground almonds
55 gr. skinned and ground hazelnuts

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 and your macarons won't work. Combine the ground almonds, ground hazelnuts and powdered sugar in a food processor and give them a quick pulse. It will break the powdered sugar lumps and combine your nuts with it evenly. Add them to the meringue and fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that flows like magma or a thick ribbon. 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 with the batter and pipe small round onto parchment paper baking sheets. Preheat the oven to 315F. Let the macarons sit out for an hour to harden their shell a bit and bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool completely.

Chocolate Ganache:
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup bittersweet chocolate

In a heavy saucepan set over medium heat, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the stove and add the chocolate to it. Let stand 2 minutes and then stir until fully combined. Let cool until firm enough to put in a small piping bag.

Coffee Buttercream: (it will make more than you need but freeze the leftovers for up to 3 months)
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
2 large eggs
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water

In a small heavy saucepan set over medium heat, dissolve the sugar in the water. While stirring bring the mixture to a boil, and continue to cook until it registers 240°F. on a candy thermometer. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment or with a hand held beater beat the eggs until they are frothy. Add the sugar syrup in a thin stream, beating, and beat the mixture until it is cool. Change to the paddle attachment and add in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, the espresso mixture, and beat the buttercream until it is combined well. Leave at room temperature so it will be easier to spread.

To Assemble:
Put the coffee buttercream in a piping bag and pipe a circle around the edges of a macaron shells. Pipe a dollop of ganache in the middle and top with another shell.


Allright, now moving on to the second part of this post....


The cute as can be felt slice of chocolate cake is none other than a creation from Hannah of Bittersweet. That was her Christmas gift to me...how sweet is that?!! I set it on another Christmas gift: a gorgeous display of crystal baking items by Swarovski that my mother had put together and framed for me. I am spoiled, I know that! How Hannah finds the time to do all the things she does is beyond me...she is like the energizer bunny!

Talking about bunny...it's Eater soon and I thought it was about time I tell you about another talented artist. One day a lovely lady, Mia sent me an email thanking me for my recipe and my blog (if you know me you know I was blushing red right then), and adding that she wanted to send me a little something "just to show her appreciation". Mia paints life on eggs and beautiful jewelry. Literally. Life. Stunning. The duck egg on the left is a traditional design of an Ukrainian woman, in her embroidered clothing , wearing a crown of flowers with ribbons and holding a loaf of Easter bread. The one on the right has a design of a bird holding a branch of leaves. Birds show the fulfillment of wishes, leaves are for a fresh start, red is for passion, the nets separate good from evil, flowers are for love and happiness, diamonds are for wisdom and knowledge, there is also evergreen for good health and dots which show the blessings which come from sorrow. How on earth did she read inside my soul is beyond me?

Thank you ladies and thank you to you all readers out there fill me with joy and excitement. I try to visit as many blogs as I can and to answer to all the emails as promptly as I can but I have never felt more proud to be part of such an awesome community. My head does not get big and my ego does not soar in cases like that but my throat gets tight and I feel uncomfortable. I just bake and write because it is in my blood and to receive these compliments is always a little...how can I say? mind blowing? So imagine my heart getting full with gratitude and passion for the work I do when I received this award from Aimee, Jen, Susan, Linda and Gretchen Noelle.


First off ladies: right back at you! I love reading your blogs, you make me laugh, you crack me up, you kick my ass and make me wish I were rich enough to fly all of you to a huge slumber baking party somewhere on a tropical island....oh boy, looks like the painkillers are kicking in again!!

Now I have to pass this on and although there are tons of you who deserve and I am sure will receive this award soon, I wanted to focus on the male bloggers (but not entirely)out there and to reveal a few other crushes (gosh if you read this blog, it is starting to sound like we need a PG rating or something).....so.....Please accept this "Excellent" award:

- Frenchie Zen Chef of Chefs Gone Wild: my fellow expat has the excellent touch to put "sexy" in everything he makes, writes with great spunk and has the knack to take mouth watering pictures .
- Mark from No Special Effects: pure talent, creativity and gorgeous photographs, not to mention that his blogs reads like a novel and he is the most excellent commenters!
- Graeme from Blood Sugar: what can I say? I love his blog: the excellent photography, his excellent wit, charm and wonderful recipes. I'd love to be his roomie, that's all I can add!

Now for the ladies:
- Shawda from Confections Of A Foodie Bride: what can I say that her pictures don't already do? Excellent photography, recipes and sense of humor as well as community. I am crushing too what can I say?!!
-Carol from Paris Breakfasts: you make my day lady! I always read you while in my pjs sipping my coffee. You make me feel at home and I lust after your art. You are excellent indeed.
- Lisa from La Mia Cucina: I know what you are going to say "you guys are close friends"...but it's more than that. Lisa not only holds my hand in time of crisis but she is the most excellent talented writer I know. Not to mention a kickass cooks....I never want to leave when she she fixes me food (but she might say the opposite since I eat like a horse)...fantabulous dishes!!

Sorry if it was such a long post but all these topics were long overdue and I kept wondering how to fit them in....Have a great weekend all!



No Knead Brioche With Pink Almond Praline

66

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Yes I hear you, "another brioche post", and I want to tell you that when you can't reach overhead for a few days and that soup is not really appealing after surgery, brioche is like food send from angels way up above. I had surgery yesterday and my lovely mother-in-law brought me a big pot of soup...and what did I do? I ate brioche instead...for dinner! No veggies, no protein, just pure unadulterated butter and flour.

What makes me happy about this brioche is the little pink praline inside and the little story that goes along with it. I have had a huge crush on Guillemette from Chocolat et Caetera for over a year now. I can't tell you how many times I leave the house and her latest post is still on my computer screen, how many times I look at her desserts and admire the pure taste and flavors she combines. She is smart, fun and beautiful. She is my girl crush, quoi! A few months ago we started talking about the things we missed about France for me and the US for her (food of course) and somewhere in the mounds of cheese and slushies she mentioned "Heath Toffee Bits" and I remembered the pink pralines from Lyon that I loved so much in brioche. Don't be mistaken by the word praline: the almond is coated with a semi hard caramel that is tinted in pink and then flavored with different essences. This praline may appear crackling at first but soon the outside gives way to a soft interior. Along with the pralines, Guillemette spoiled me with hazelnut paste, raspberry chocolate jam, tons of incredible artisan chocolate and cookies. Thank you!

Back to the brioche shall we? I received Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day when , my other girl crush, Jaden, held a drawing for a few copies of this book based on the ubber popular and beloved concept of the No-Knead bread. After kneading Julia's French bread by hand from line 1 to line....(well, til the end), I needed the welcome change of a no-knead dough, but brioche? I was skeptical to say the least. My favorite brioche is not the all buttery kinf but rather the one that we call "brioche filee", one that gives out nice strands of dough as you pull it apart. I feared that no matter how good the no-knead one would be, it would just disappoint me. I looked at the brioche recipe in the book but I did not have enough eggs and remember I hate to be disappointed by bread! I settled on the recipe for Challah which texture is very close to the "brioche filee" texture I like so much.

I made small ones, with and without "tete", that little bump on top, and filled each with a praline. I made a double batch so I could indulge on a moment's notice and boy was I happy to butter one up tonight. See doctor! No reaching overhead! Just from the tray, passed the butter and onward to my mouth. Oh my...perfect! Not too sweet, not oozing in butter, each filled with a little pink surprise inside! Excuse me if I end this post right there with the recipe, but my painkillers are calling my name and I fear I might not make much sense in a few minutes. I will leave you with the recipe for the Challah adapted slightly from Jaden's minus the praline, and feel free to bake the challah as intended or fill brioche molds and make small ones. Both doughs are cousins after all.

Master Dough:

1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tbl instant yeast
1 kosher salt (or 1 1/2 tsp table salt)
4 lg eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and room temp.
7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

In a large bowl of your stand mixer with paddle attachment mix together the eggs, water, honey, melted butter, yeast and salt. Add in the flour and mix until all the flour is incorporated Cover (not airtight) and stick it in the refrigerator overnight, or up to 4 days. The longer you let the dough in the refrigerator, the better tasting it will be.

You can let it rise for 2 hours on the counter, cover and refrigerate overnight. Pinch of a grapefruit size ball (one pound) and use as you prefer. The dough will keep well for about a week. Freeze if necessary and allow to thaw overnight in the fridge.

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