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Fresh Figs

Another day busy with baking and writing and photo homework…until a huge thunderstorm hit the neighborhood and we lost power from 5.30pm or so until 10pm. Others in the neighborhood got their power back on around 7pm but no one can figure out why our street stayed that long without it. It’s the summer, there’s a creek, there’s a dock, a couple of canoe, plenty of kids and animals, so plenty to do without power. We all gathered to grill out, share salads and juicy fruits as we usually do on saturdays so really it did not make that much difference. Except, I was working and had plenty in the oven and lost it all. There is pretty much nothing to do when you have macarons, cakes, tarts, etc…baking in the oven and power cuts off for almost 5 hours. I thought about using the grill but again, all were pretty much used already.

I called the electric company to inquire about the delay and the lady was real nice and really there was not much she could do. When she said at 7pm that most lines were fixed but it might take longer for ours here is the dialogue that ensued:
Me: "Oh no, that’s impossible…I really need power!"
Her: "do you have a baby? Is it an emergency"
Me: "It’s cake. It’s an emergency."
Long pause from the lady at the electric company.
Me: "It’s my work. Sorry if I sounded deranged"
Her (laughing): "That’s ok honey, we all have issues."

So, back to the drawing board tomorrow…It made me realize that I am somewhat naively more worried about losing power for hours than my computer crashing….oops (knock on wood, Helen, fast!!). No food got spoiled during the power outage as I have the weird habit to crank the fridge and freezer on very cold right when I see a serious lightning storm. I started doing that after we lost power for two days a few years back and it did help a great deal.

Red Currants

What did I end up doing instead for those terribly long hours (humor)? I played with the two crazy monkeys below and put together a little cheese and fruit tray with fresh figs and red currants and some cheese. Lucky us there was no need for electricity with the sun setting so late and all was not lost since the kids tried some new foods and basically had a heck of a free night before school starts!! Not too bad after all!

Hope you are enjoying the pictures because that’s all I got 🙁
For more puppy pictures, you can always click here.

Salade De Fruits…Jolie Jolie Jolie

No, no, this Fruit Salad with Blood Orange Syrup is not an ode to Mrs. Brad Pitt but rather a glimpse into my daily breakfast fare…in music. When Elly from Elly Says Opa! announced her "Eat To The Beat" event I knew right off the bat what I would make. Hugh…what so special about Fruit Salad you might ask?! Well yes, said like that, nothing really. Except that fruit salads always make me sing this song , and this one made me sing it even louder. It is just a simple mix of fresh cut kiwis, strawberries and pineapple but set on a bed of Greek yogurt and sweetened with freshly made blood orange syrup….hmmmm!

Every relationship comes with a great song. I like to think that I share this one with my grandfather, Papi Rene, now 97. The gentleman in the video is nothing like him and has long passed away but he was one of France’s genuine comedians and actors. My grandfather used to sing me this song all the time when I was a kid and although I was not paying much attention to the lyrics, it stuck to me like glue up to this day. I was always mesmerized by my Papi’s singing, his physique commanding respect (still does) and silence, and it kind of became "my" song. I realized the other day that it could be my wake up song because it always puts me in a great mood.

With this song and beat, I also thought it was about time to answer the questions I receive the most in the emails that readers send me "Do you eat everything you make all the time?" and "What do you really eat?". Yes, I eat the desserts I make and post about here, unless they are for special orders and then I just make a couple extra cupcakes or pastries for B. and me. Yes, I eat cake, cheesecakes and yes, I have chocolate everyday….but in a reasonable portion and we often share a dessert after dinner. No, I don’t polish a whole bowl of chocolate mousse on my own although I could totally see myself do that since I seem to have an expandable stomach, especially past 4pm, which brings me to this fruit salad.

I have a very difficult time eating in the morning and fruit and yogurt are usually the only thing I have time to fix and eat since I like to stay in my bed until the very last minute possible. It’s usually cut up seasonal fruits, yogurt and a drizzle of honey, sometimes a sprinkle of granola or toasted coconut (like here). Every winter I cannot wait to see blood oranges pop up at the store and I stock up big time last week and made a batch of syrup with a few. We pour it on almost everything: waffles, ice cream, yogurt, and even pork roast (trust me it rocks!). I get a good dose of vitamins and plenty of nutrients right from the start…it’s in the afternoon that things get a little different! When you bake for others you are often not hungry enough afterwards to want something big (or anything at all) and it is the case for me until a couple of hours later. Thus, I make sure there is dessert around so I can have a few spoonfuls of chocolate mousse or cake. Starting the day with this invigorates me, makes me feel good inside and out, and I know I have gotten one thing right ….especially if I somehow happen to lose my spoon to Ben&Jerry later on.

Feel Good All Around Fruit Salad With Blood Orange Syrup:

1 cup peeled and diced kiwis
1 cup diced strawberries
1 cup diced pineapple
toasted coconut
Blood Orange Syrup
Yogurt (Greek or any thick variety)

Make the orange syrup first and let cool completely. In a bowl, combined all the fruits. Layer the yogurt, fruits in glasses or cups and top with the cooled syrup. Top with toated coconut.

This more a method than a recipe and you can change the fruits at will depending what is available in your area (I am in a relatively tropical area so these are always to get).I have to add that my fruit salads are now even prettier in a cool polka dot bowl that Chris from Mele Cotte sent me (originally filled with chocolates, but these are long gone, ahahah!!) along with funky paper napkins that I love. Thanks Peaches, but helping you with your big event was a treat for me and I hope I could do it in person one day!!

I need to end this post on an even sweeter note. My favorite French student, great friend, pastry confident and all around amazing blogger Veronica, from Veronica’s Test Kitchen launched her very own baking business in Richmond VA, aptly called Petites Bouchees . To help her test taste the viability of shipping she asked a few of us if we agreed to be her guinea pigs….like I was going to refuse me a macaron?!!! I get to sit down for once!! I emailed her as soon as I got home and snatched the box from B’s hands "Is your name on the box?" I asked. "Hugh…I knew what is was and I figured I’d refrigerate them…you help" he said…."Minus 4 already!" As you can probably guess, the box is almost empty, and I am keeping guard tonight…these babies will be mine!! The boxing and packaging is exquisite but the macarons themselves are divine! The vanilla buttercream is absolutely wonderful and the scent makes you want to lay in a field of vanilla beans! The caramel is soft and deep golden, leaving that salty little touch on your tongue. If I were you people living in Richmond, I would run to my computer and get her info because I suspect Veronica is going to be busy filling orders they are so good.

Adapting Herme’s Sensation Satine

My mother is a very playful woman, always up for a joke a prank or a trick, not a bad student in her younger days but definetely the one I would describe to a salesperson when I’d be lost in a department store as the "short woman laughing". So when she arrived from France on Monday for a mini vacation without my father, I wanted to accomodate her playful nature. I put one of these "verrines" (can be translated as dessert in a glass) in front of her that evening and waited for her reaction. I was not waiting for a "wow" but for a giggle and this is exactly what I got! She looked at it, picked it up, turned it around and then said like a kid who just found a Rubix cube "Come on! Tell me, tell me…!" Well, mom it’s really not complicated and I owe it all to Pierre Herme, the mad pastry scientist/creator we all worship! I had originally worked on it for a tasting for an event that never happened so I had three of them left for us.

You probably know by now that every Sunday I tutor Veronica in French and that we start and end our sessions by talking pastries and desserts. We always talk about Herme, and we often end up emailing each other about pastry suppliers, books, discoveries and others. One afternoon I was reading emails when Herme’s newsletter came through and within 10 seconds I was forwarding it to Veronica with a simple "I am So making THIS during the week!" I had not even looked at the ingredients yet, I just loved the play on the layer.

In the newsletter, there was a link to the recipe and I thought "And he is generous…I love that!" I read it, I liked it but I found the actual making a little bit tedious due to the ingredients. His original version contains a bottom layer of orange marmelade then a layer of yogurt panna cotta and the top layer is passion fruit gelee. I thought that orange marmelade would be cloyingly sweet and although I found passion fruits at the store, they were $1.99 a piece…and I needed 20 if I were to follow his recipe. Ah yes, the man is generous but he is not sponsoring my site…so I had to change course and come up with my own Sensation Satine, keeping the fun look of the different layers.

Think about an upscale jello that is a cinch to make. I am sure that if Herme knew what jello was, he would kill me for the comparison but this is the closest I could get! There is not a whole lot of gelatin in each layer, just enough to old everything together and leave an extreme velvety texture to each bite…like satin. I went for grapefruit at the bottom, honey Greek yogurt in the middle, and mango lime for the top. To garnish I macerated kumquats in simple syrup overnight and the little extra is a raspberry chip on top. The chips are so easy to make that you are going to start using other fruits. Mangoes, bananas, strawberries, etc… They are addictive!

It was time to tell mom how Herme did it and how I shamelessly copied him! All you need is a few glasses and an empty egg carton…Yes! An egg carton! Everytime you layer an element, set it at an angle in one empty egg slot, refrigerate until set. Layer the other element and set this one on an opposite angle, the top layer goes flat. When I read it I thought "and there you have why he is among the Masters in the world…duh!!" And my mom to exclaim in her usual fashion: "How cool! Let’s do it again!" I see her point, once you have the concept, the possibilities are endless! Granted the process takes a long time because of the setting periods of each layer but you can spread it over one cleaning and laundry day….or one lazy rainy afternoon.

Sensation Satine (concept adapted from The Sugar Daddy):

Makes 3 large servings (we split)

Mango Lime Gelee:
1 1/2 tsp gelatin
2 Tb water
1 cup mango nectar
1/4 cup sugar
zest and juice from 1 lime

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 mango juice, the sugar and the zest and juice from the lime until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the stove, add the gelatin and stir until it is completely melted. Let cool to room temperature. Divide evenly among the glasses and position them at an angle in the egg carton. Let set a couple of hours in the fridge.

Honey Yogurt Gelee:
1 1/2 tsp gelatin
2 Tb water
1 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 cup honey

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 15 seconds. Quickly mix the two together, add the rest of the yogurt and the honey. No need to let it cool, layer it on top of the mango layer and position it at the opposite angle in the egg carton. Refrigerate for a couple of hours.

Grapefruit Gelee:
1 1/2 tsp gelatin
2 Tb water
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup grapefruit juice

Same exact process as the mango layer. Let it cool to room temperature before using. Remove the glasses from the egg carton and divide evenly on the top of each glass. Refrigerate for a couple of hours.

Macerated Kumquats:
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
3 cardamom pods, crushed
1 cup kumquats, sliced

In a large saucepan heat to boiling the water, sugar and 3 crushed cardamom pods. Remove from the heat, and let infuse for 30 minutes. Strain the syrup into a bowl to remove the cardamom and add the sliced kumquats, leave to macerate for couple of hours or overnight.

Raspberry chips:
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries, (thawed and drained a little if you use frozen)
1/2 cup sugar

In a food processor puree the raspberries with the sugar until smooth. Line a baking sheet with parchement paper and with a spoon or a spatula, spoon small petals or chips.

Bake at 200F until dried and firm to the touch. They will firm up while cooling but get soft if refrigerated.

Last but not least: the winners from the Canneles drawing held this past weekend. I would like Megan from Megan’s Cooking and Paula who signed "anonymous" to email me their snail mail address at marinette1ATcomcastDOTnet so I can get these puppies out to them. Congratulations!!

Pear White Chocolate Bavarian Charlotte

This Charlotte would be great for Spring or Summer but it just happened that I made it for our New Year’s Day dinner with my parents-in-law. Really, I could not be a luckier girl having Bill and Ruth as my in-laws. I will always remember the first time we broke bread and sat together over dinner. I had known B. a little over a week and already I was taken in by his family as if I had always belonged. They were offering a place at their table but also a place in their hearts, completely trusting their son that this young woman of 19 years his junior and potential wife number 2 was the one who would stick around. Oh, we had our moments Ruth and I, but mostly due to misunderstandings, differences in traditions and cultures, but nothing that could not get solved around a batch of cookies and a big hug. My father in law is the looser one of the couple, a free spirit, a joker, and a talented drummer. Both in their eighties, they never miss a bit, are always on the go and exercise religiously. They are also true Southerners.

Although I try to cook items from my country and from Bill’s childhood, I know better than to attempt his mom’s squash casserole, her tomatoes and okra and her spinach souffle. Mom Ruth is also the one gathering up the troops for New Year’s Day every year, so I was really surprised not to hear from her right after Christmas to tell us what time lunch would be on January 1st. Hmmm, strange…While grocery shopping, I could not helped being sidetracked by all the people shopping for the different things traditionally cooked that day: pork, hoppin' Johns and collard greens. I called Ruth and told them that I would love to have them over for New Year’s Day if they did not have other plans. Invitation accepted…now what have I thrown myself into? I know how to cook, (thank you mom) but "Southern cooking served to your Southern mother in-law" is a whole different ball game!!! That’s when Beverly came to my rescue and put all the necessary items in my cart, with all the necessary how-to’s and off I went! Once home, B. told me I was brave to venture into his mom’s territory and I quickly replied "don’t worry! she is bringing the rice with tomatoes and okra". Sigh of relief from my husband…

So, with everything in pots Monday afternoon, ham hocks included, my biggest preoccupation was of course what dessert to serve to the in-laws. I know they like creamy things, fruits chocolate and mousses. How can I turn that into something that would bring both our cultures and continents together as we celebrate the New Year? I immediately thought about a Charlotte filled with a light white chocolate Bavarian cream and topped with pears. The cake base is a layer of ladyfingers at the bottom and surrounding the mousse. To make the cookies more manageable to handle, you need to dip them quickly in some liquid. I usually do water and Grand Marnier but you can use another liqueur or do water and orange juice if you wish. I used jarred pears for the top because the ones I found at the markets were either rock solid or mush, and the stove was already too crowded to start poaching fruit. The Charlotte has to be started the day before to allow the Bavarian cream to set, which gives you less things to think about as you’re getting the house ready for company. Choose the best white chocolate you can find, not only will it make a difference in the final product but you will also avoid little bits and lumps in the mousse.

I don’t know if my in-laws were giddy from the Champagne or the wine or the meal, but we had a great time, just the four of us. It reminded us of the 15 months we went to live with them while we were building our house. No casualties, and we were a little sad to leave them as they can be a hoot! Youwee! Mission accomplished…I passed that test! Mama Ruth complimented me on the savories (and that is a big deal!) while Papa Bill had seconds of the cake. I made Kalyn's wonderful soup the day after with the leftover peas,hams and greens, and I am enjoying a bowl right now as I type this.

Pear White Chocolate Bavarian Charlotte:

2 packs ladyfingers cookies
1 jar of pear halves (16 oz)
2 cups heavy cream
3 (1/4-ounce) envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/3 cups cold water
6 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
2 cups whole milk
6 oz (3/4 cup) white chocolate
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup Grand Marnier

In a shallow dish, mix the water and Grand Marnier. Dip the ladyfingers in the liquid and quickly set them around the inside of an eight inch spring form pan lined with plastic wrap. Layer about 12 in a flower like patter at the bottom of the pan. Set aside in the refrigerator.

For the Bavarian:
Sprinkle the gelatin over the 1/3 cup of water and set aside. Whip the cream to soft peaks and refrigerate until ready to use.
Pour the milk into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together until thickened and a pale yellow color. Slowly but steadily add the hot milk, stirring constantly to temper the yolks. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thickened (much like creme anglaise). Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, let it sit for a minute and whisk until incorporated.
Heat the gelatin 10 seconds in the microwave, add it to the white chocolate batter whisking constantly. Strain if necessary to make sure there are no chocolate lumps. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.
Remove the whipped cream from the refrigerator and fold it into the white chocolate cream.
Carefully pour it into the spring form pan. Put the cake back into the refrigerator and allow to set overnight.
The day you plan to serve the cake, carefully unlock the spring form pan and slide the cake out. Put a plate on top, invert, remove the spring form bottom, the plastic wrap. Put a plate on top of what will be your cake bottom and invert again. Proceed with a steady hand, but do not worry, the mousse is set so you won’t smoosh it down.
Cut the pear halves into thin slices and fan them out on the top of the cake. Leave it in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Apple Beignets And Cheesecake Ice Cream

Waking up this morning after getting in town late last night I really wished I had saved a couple of these beignets to pan fry and have along with my coffee….But no I was too greedy as they were made last week and eaten right before I went to spend the weekend at Lisa’s house with Mary. My original intention was to post them for Sugar High Friday, hosted this month by Andrew. I believe I am a day late but I will send him my entry nonetheless and see if he accepts it.

It is good to be home, sleep next to my husband and waking up with my dog curling with me on the bed. I have a lot to tell you about this past weekend. So many emotions, laughs, good times, foods and desserts to think over and straighten in my head before I can write more about it all. What can I say…there was cheese, wine, markets, ethnic foods, homemade bread, benne seed wafers, pecan sandies, a giant German chocolate cake, Trader Joes, Sur La Table (aka "On The Table") and Crate and Barrel. We did a lot, drank a lot, baked a lot. My heart, eyes and head are still full of all the precious time I have had with Lisa and Mary. So stay tuned for a more detailed account….one more guest arriving tomorrow and then I regain my sanity back (we hope!)

Back to the apple beignets…Ever since I was a child, I have been in love with them convincing myself that the frying oil effects were completely negated by the healthy aspect of the fruit..hummhumm. I went for a more grown up version this time, using the same method I had tried before (here) adapting it for apples. The fruit is first dipped in a light batter then coated with Panko breadcrumbs and then fried. You could deep fry the beignets but I did mine in a cast iron pan with about 2 inches of oil heated to 350F. The ice cream is once again nothing new, but a flavor I try to keep around as much as possible because we seem to go through it like crazy.
The result exactly what I had hoped for, a childhood favorite adapted for my grown up palate as there is alcohol in the batter. Serve as soon as they come out of the frying pan, with a glass of cider and you’re set!

Apple Beignets, adapted from Richard Leach:

2 Tb light brown sugar mixed with 2 Tb. granulated sugar
1/2 cup + 2 Tb flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup cider (the alcohol based one)
4 apples
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
vegetable oil for frying

Preheat oven to 275F.Core the apples (do not peel) and cut them in half. Sprinkle with the sugar mix and bake for 30 minutes. Let cool.
Heat oil to 350F.
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder add water in a bowl until smooth. Dip apple halves in beignet batter. Roll in breadcrumbs. Deep fry until golden brown.

Cheesecake Ice Cream, adapted from this post:

2 cups milk (50 cl)
1/3 cup heavy cream (10 cl)
3/4 cup sugar (170 gr)2 egg yolks
3 oz cream cheese (90gr)

Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar. In a saucepan set on medium heat, bring the milk and the cream to boiling point, slowly pour a small amount on the egg yolks to temper. Pour the remaining over the yolks and sugar. Stir well then pour back in the saucepan and cook over medium low heat until the cream thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream cheese until completely melted and incorporated. Cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until cold. Process in an ice cream maker according to your machine’s manufacturer’s instruction.

Tonka Bean White Chocolate And Apricot Cakes

Ever since that little magic bean popped up on French blogs, I have been intrigued to try it. I had heard about it, seen it even smelled it but sourcing tonka beans here in the US was somewhat difficult, even five years ago, at least in my town (not that we are the culinary black hole of the universe). Nowadays, it is a little easier to locate but when my mother asked me what I wanted her to bring (along with the chocolate bars, silicone molds and other baking items I asked) I jumped at the chance to finally get a big bag of tonka bean at a relatively cheap price.
As soon as I opened the bag, the scents of vanilla and almonds wafted through the air and a little note of clove tickled my nose. I am telling you…magic….

You can use to infuse liquids such as creams and milk for flans, creme brulees, sauces, etc…or you can directly grate it with a microplane (easier) and directly add it to your preparation. I kept the little knobs I could not get through the grater and put them in a jar of sugar for instant flavor. If you are really gunho about not having little specks of tonka bean, I guess you could process them fine in a coffee grinder but I like my tonka to show, much like the seeds of vanilla beans. That reminds me of a woman dining at the restaurant one night and sent her vanilla bean creme brulee back to the kitchen. I asked the waitress what was wrong with it and she replied rolling her eyes to the ceiling (at the customer) "She said there was dirt in it"….Argh!!! I guess she would not wait vanilla bean ice cream either, eh?!

We have planned to drive to Winston-Salem, NC this weekend and spend some relaxing time visiting the town, with my parents, and thanks to a local, Abby of Confabulations In The Kitchen, I think we have a pretty good list of great places to see. I wish I could meet her in person and give her a great big hug, because she has saved me hours with her guidelines and recommendations, especially local delicacies, restaurants and of course bakeries! I wanted to pack some home baked goodies for the drive and immediately thought about mini cakes with grated tonka beans. I remembered a post titled (translated from the French): "A cake to die for", where the tonka bean was paired with apricots and white chocolate….I am a not a chocolate snob and as long as it is good quality I will eat all kinds. I was once again spoiled by one of my clients when she brought me a few bars of Valrhona chocolate from a recent trip to France. Well, by now you must know my theory: if all the ingredients are getting together like that, that means I must join the party!!

The cakes are quick and easy to come together and you can make a loaf cake or a round cake, possibilities are endless, and you can’t barely taste the white chocolate if you are not a fan. I would not take it away from the recipe though as it adds a little fudge feeling to cake. However, the biggest problem is that by the time we get in the car tomorrow, en route to Winston-Salem, there won’t be any left….it is absolutely the best mini cakes I have ever had! They are out of this world warm and a little denser and flavor concentrated at room temp. What the heck! They are even to dye for straight out of the fridge at 2 in the morning!
OK, I hear you, you may not have tonka beans available where you are, but a good substitute is to combine 1/2 tsp. each good quality vanilla and pure almond essence.

Tonka Bean White Chocolate and Apricot Cakes, (original recipe here)

Makes 8

1 1/2 sticks butter, melted and cooled

1/3 cup sugar

1 cup white chocolate, melted

3 large eggs

1/2 cup flour

2 tonka beans

15 dried apricots, cut in small dices

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Whisk together the eggs and sugar until pale and thick, about 2-3 minutes. Add the butter and chocolate. Whisk well and add the flour. Finely grate the tonka bean and add to the batter. Add the dried apricots and mix until incorporated. Divide evenly between muffin tins coated with cooking spray and cook for 15 minutes (longer if using a larger pan, about 20-25 minutes).

P.S: no internet connection for the next 4 days, so have a great weekend ya’ll and see you back next week!

Note: One commenter made me realise that I should put this info up about tonka beans:

"The coumarin active component (and why it is not found in food products in the US) is chemically similar to the active ingredient found in a common blood thinner called warfarin or Coumadin. This medication is commonly used to "thin out" blood and prevent clot formation. Patients on this medication have to have regular blood test since too much, may pose them at risk for bleeding and too little–risk for clot formation. The dose varies so regular blood work is the only thing that we can use to adjust the dose. You can imagine that there are a lot of drug interactions when patients are on this medication. There are also food interactions."

So folks. just like everything in life (but love and chocolate) use in moderation!

Lemon Almond Blueberry Tarts

Lemon Almond Blueberry Tartlets" Chaos"… that’s the word that comes to my mind when I think about these little tarts. They are not difficult to make, although they will take you some time if you make everything from scratch, but the results are really worth the effort. What I meant by "chaos" is all the noise, movements, tribulations that took place around them while they were getting their shiny coats and lemon dots.

I decided to make my tarts for Hay Hay It’s Donna Day, created by Barbara of Winos and Foodies and hosted this month by Sarina of TriniGourmet this past tuesday. My day was pretty skimpy on training appointments so I figured I would have ample time to make these and a couple of other pastries for orders. I started with the dough right before I left for work, inspired by one that did the rounds of the French bloggsophere last year. A sort of easy and fast mock puff pastry, which originaly calls for "petits suisses" as a moisture source but I’ll say "hot dang!" (because I love them) the day I find those here, so I subbed sour cream and everything worked out fine. Once back home, the dough got a little resting time on the countertop before being tooled out. Smooth as a baby’s bottom and soft as a pillow I almost wished our rolling time would have to come to an end in a pie plate…Have you ever kneaded a bread dough or other that was so nice to you, so pliable that you wish you could do it forever?…Ok, if it wasn’t official before, now you can definitely see how weird I can be about my doughs!

Anyway, I disgress…I was about to fill my mini pie pans when I heard kids’ voices in the garage. Our neighbors’ twins were down there figuring a way to get in the middle if the action with B. You bet, for two 7 year-old boys, our garage is like a treasure cave of trouble to get into with tools galore, boating equipment, golf clubs, crab and shrimp nests, etc….They are so bubbly, it sounded like there were 6 kids playing around. My dear husband sent them upstairs to get some water and a treat and that’s when chaos ensued…I love baking with children, I think their take on things is honest and down to earth. They are also very creative and bring good ideas to the table when it comes to ease of preparation and decorations. If you are calm enough to understand that within 10 minutes your kitchen is going to be splaterred with flour, sugar and your utensils flying in every directions, then you are going to have a serious good time!

One of the boys looked at the shells filled with the almond filling coming out of the oven and started to blow on them so they would cool faster and they’d be able to fill them with the blueberry compote. They even suggested holding them over the AC vent for quicker cool down time, not practical but smart for sure!
Once filled with the blueberry compore, the twins proceeded to help me out with dotting the tarts with lemon curd cream. I believe they were quite proud to get about one cup in the pastry bag and not on their shoes. The dots were another story… The three photographed tarts are actually the ok looking ones, the others much ressemble the surfaces of Mars and the Moon, and I even recall one tart attempted to smile. They ate 3 mini ones right then on the spot, too happy to show my husband their blue tongues! Within the nest couple of days, the tarts kept disappearing at great speed, so much so that I think I only ate one… not fair!

Lemon Almond Blueberry Tartlets
The recipe given by Sarina to illustrate this month "Tarts" theme starts with a puff pastry and I wanted to keep with this idea but was pressed for time visiting with the parents so I tried this quick puff pastry I mentioned above. The filling is my "go-to" frangipane (almond cream) filling that I used last month with fresh figs. The blueberry compote is nothing else than cooked down fresh picked blueberries (there is a patch 15 minutes down the road), and the lemon curd is leftover from the Meyer lemon curd I made for a Ricotta Cake and that I had in the freezer. All the parts can come together over several days, so there is no feeling of waiting or rushing if you spread the work over 2-3 days. You can also keep everything unbaked for 3-4 days.

While talking to Veronica a couple of weeks ago about the Meyer lemons Mary had sent us, I was talking to her about possible uses and tart options for HHDD. As it happens when most cooks and bakers talk together the conversation quickly moved from "lemon and blueberry tarts" to "Meyer lemon curd, blueberry compote on frangipane cream in mini shells"…I can see how a simple Sunday dinner could turn into a New Year’s Eve Party. I exagerate of course, but you get the point. Thanks Veronica for the tasty brainstorming!

Lemon Almond Blueberry Tartlets

Lemon Almond Blueberry Tarts:

Quick Puff Pastry:

180 gr. flour
180 gr. sour cream
90gr. butter
pinch of salt

Process all the ingredients in a food processor until the dough comes together. Remove and knead a couple of times until smooth. Roll out and fold in three like a business letter. Repeat a couple of times and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Roll the dough and fit into pie shells of different sorts or one large 12 inch one. Blind bake for 10 minutes at 350F. Let cool.

Frangipane Cream:

1/3 cup whole almonds (about 2 ounces)
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
4 teaspoons rum or brandy

Finely grind almonds with sugar in processor. Add egg, butter and 2 teaspoons rum. Process until batter forms. Pour filling into crust. Bake for 15 minutes at 350F. Let cool completely.

Blueberry Filling:

1 pint fresh blueberries
zest and juice from one lime
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
2 Tb. cornstarch

In a heavy saucepan, combine all the ingredients and heat over medium until the blueberries release their juices and the whole mix start to thicken, about 10 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.

Lemon Curd Cream:

grated zest of 2 (Meyer) lemons
1 cup strained lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 Tb powdered gelatin set to bloom in 3 Tb water
1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks

Combine the zest, sugar, juice in a saucepan, and bring to a simmer.
In a small bowl, beat the eggs until light.Beat some of the lemon mixture into the eggs to temper. Scrape the mixture back into the saucepan and cook stirring constantly until it thickens up, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the gelatin in the microwave until dissolved, about 30 seconds. Remove the curd from the heat, let cool completely. Gently fold in the whipped cream.

Spoon the blueberry filling into the tart or divide evenly among the mini ones. Pour the lemon curd cream into a pastry bags and dot the blueberry filling with it.

The combinations of all the flavors is truly outstanding. Just plenty to make it sweet and just enough of a little pucker with the lemon.

Quince Tartlets And One Happy Tartelette

Quince Tartlets
I am telling you I am truly spoiled. Right before my parents got here with suitcases full of pans, molds, chocolates, nut pastes, extracts and other baking ingredients, I received a box filled with quinces, freshly picked by Elle from Feeding My Enthusiasms. Back in June, I had a sudden craving for quinces and for some reason stores here carry them year round, regardless of the season and for the whopping price of $1.99 a quince (price does not change either!)…Ouch!! I was nostalgic enough of my mother’s quince jelly that I caved in and bought one little quince and tried to make the most out of it. A couple of days later, Elle sent me an e-mail telling me that she would be happy to send me some from her own backyard as soon as they were in season. I let a little "yippee" of joy and started to wish for September already! Kept busy by other baking project I kind of put the mighty quince out of my mind, although tempted to sneak one in my apple basket at the store…Yes, I admit I sometimes planned an escape route for my beloved fruit, free of being set on the back of the exotic fruit stand because no one knew what it was or what to do with it.

My mother makes the best jams…really hands down the best, and I am not saying that because she is my mom. Her method is at the complete opposite of all the recipes you read about lately, where the fruits may be marinated for a while but cooked rather briefly. My mom cooks her jams until it is almost caramel fruit. Hours of foaming and skimming, followed by days of the greatest scented house on the block. What does this have to do with Elle’s quinces? Well, one of my earliest food memories is of my mom perched high over a big copper jam and jelly pot, stirring quinces for hours on end, filling long stockings with the mixture and letting those drip until the coveted jelly is ready to be canned. The lengthy process, the pervading aroma, and to see the final product….my mother was a magician, a goddess, an artist (she really is but that’s for another post)…and I was so lucky that someone thought about using all of earth’s bounty and share it with the rest of her acquaintances, much like Elle when she remembered to send me the quinces. I aim to be as generous in sending "thank you’s" and "how are you’s", and trust me if it seems to take me forever to do so it has everything to do with the state of my pocket book and nothing with the gratitude of my heart.

Back to quinces and the tartlets…. You can’t expect to serve a dessert with quince in 30 minutes. First reason being that raw the fruit is reallytough and sour, then you would be missing on the deep amber colour you get after cooking it down. The natural high pectin content allows the fruit purees, jams or jellies to set very well on their own, require very little from you other than stirring…and stirring.
I had already used two of the quinces to make baked quinces, much like "baked apples" filled with nuts and cranberries. I originally thought about an quince tarte Tatin (upside down tart) but was afraid that the caramel would burn before the quinces had the chance to cook through. Instead I looked at the 8 remaining and decided to make "compote" with 4 of them and dice and slice the last 4 and caramelize them on the stove. The crust is inspired from an olive oil dough recipe found on a French blog I read daily, Eggs and Mouillettes, to which I added a pinch of cardamom…because I put this spice anywhere I can since I love it so much!
I have so many mini, medium and big tart shells, homemade (it is amazing what I have B. do with leftover Lowe’s materials, as well as cardboard and foil!) bought and borrowed that I took the liberty to play around with shapes and sizes of both the tartlets and the fruit.

Quince Tartlets
Quince Tartlets With Olive Oil and Cardamom Crust:

Makes 6 3.5-inch tartlets plus 2 4-inch tarts

For the crust:

200 gr. all purpose flour
50 gr. ground almonds
10 cl. cold water
10 cl. olive oil
1/2 tsp. round cardamom
75 gr. sugar

In a food processor, mix all the ingredients together and pulse until the dough comes together. Take the dough out of the mixer and knead a couple of times, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface and cut out shapes for your molds as desired.

For the quince compote:

4 medium sized quinces
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup of water

Peel, core and dice the quinces. Put them in a heavy saucepan with the sugar and the water. Cook, covered over low heat until the fruit becomes all mushy and almost red, about an hour. Add more water if needed and watch that the fruit does not attach to the bottom of the pot.
Let cool to room temperature. When cooled, divide the mixture evenly among the shells.

For the caramelized quince:

4 medium sized quinces, peeled and cored
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 stick butter

Cut 2 of the quinces in small dices and slice the remaining two very thin.
Heat the butter and the sugar in a large heavy saute pan until the mixture starts to bubble, turn the heat down and add 2 quinces that have been diced. Cook until soft and caramelized, about 30 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and divide them evenly among the shells of your choice.
Cook the remaining quince slices in the same fashion, adding a little sugar and butter if necessary. Remove with a slotted spoon, layer them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and let cool a couple of minutes before you handle the slices to make the rose pattern on the tartlets.
Starting from the outside, layer the slices overlapping the edges slightly, working your way to the the middle of the tartlets. Bake at 350F for 20-30 minutes until the pastry shells are cooked through.
Serve warm.

Thank you Elle! I spend the afternoon with mom in the kitchen again, except that this time I was the one doing the cooking and stirring! Ah, to be a kid again!!

Meyer Lemon Cake Roll – Coming Full Circle

Meyer Lemon Cake Roll
I have to warn you guys that you may have to wait longer than a couple of days in between my post for the next month. My parents are visiting from France and staying until the middle of October. I already employed mom tonight to help me out in the kitchen while I could work on a couple of pastry projects and dad is in charge of hopping in the car in case we need something last minute from the grocery store. They have been here so many times before (14) that within a couple of days they had found their marks. Mom even exclaimed as soon as she got in the house "it’s good to be home", which made me beam with joy, of course. I hope you will understand if I don’t post too often, we have a few things planned (dad is a General after all), but a lot will be left to the weather and the temperatures (pretty hot and muggy right now).

Where am I going with this paragraph, those pictures and that title? Well, when I received Mary’s box of Meyer lemons, I was on the phone with mom and I had to spend the next 10 minutes explaining her about that group of wonderful people I knew and how we sometimes exchange much more than comments on our blogs, as well as trying to describe to her a Meyer lemon as I was cutting one open. She made me promise to save her some cake "or something"…Well between B., the neighbors and me, there was no cake left within a couple of days but there was plenty of lemons for another batch of curd. Since my parents were visiting, I decided to make my dad one of his favorites, a jelly roll cake, but with Pierre Herme’s signature lemon cream inside instead of jam or preserves. My paternal grandmother passed away when I was 4 so I never got the chance to share baking time in the kitchen with her (unlike my "mamie Paulette"), but I have always heard about her "strawberry jelly roll cake" and the way my dad closes his eyes when he reminisces about it is a pretty good indication it had to be something!
Mary’s lemons went a long away in satisfying both my family both native and French.

Now let’s really talk business: that Herme’s lemon cream…boy oh boy! Since I last made it, it must be on regular supply at the house, and we think as highly of it as we do Nutella. We put it on everything, mix it with everything. Some people, and I was too at first, are concerned, afraid, surprised at the amount of butter that goes into it, but let me tell you that it is absolutely worth and the magic of pastry is that you forget about how much there actually is once you put that spoon to your mouth….you’re hooked…you want more… This time around though I reduced the amount of butter as I was adding gelatin for a firmer hold inside the cake roll.
For the cake itself, I used another one of Herme’s recipe, from a book my mom brought me this trip and that I am already devouring (no pun intended). Nothing fancy about it, it is a plain sponge cake but I added grapefruit zest and a dash of almond extract, as I love the two together.

Meyer Lemon Cake Roll
Meyer Lemon Cake Roll:

Serves 12

For the Cake:

50 gr. butter
3 eggs, separated
100 gr. flour (I used White Lilly all purpose, which is naturally soft, but you could use all purpose or cake)
2 Tb grapefruit zest
1 tsp pure almond extract
100 gr. powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 F.
In a microwave safe container, melt the butter. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, almond extract and the sugar until pale and thick. Add the grapefruit zest.
With an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites until stiff. Gently fold the whites and the flour, alternating, in the yolk/sugar mixture. Add the butter fold until incorporated.
Spread the batter onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool for 5 minutes, invert onto another sheet of parchment paper. Let cool. Fill the cake with the lemon cream and roll. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.

For the Meyer Lemon Cream:

1 cup sugar
zest of 3 Meyer lemons
4 eggs
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tb gelatin, softened in 3 Tbs water
1 stick butter, cut into 1 inch pieces, softened

Make a water bath by putting a saucepan of water over heat to simmer and placing a metal bowl over, without the bottom touching the water. Rub the sugar and lemon zest with your fingers and add to the metal bowl. Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice.
Cook the mixture over the water bath, whisking constantly until the cream reaches 180 degrees. It can take up to 10 minutes. Once the cream reaches 180 (your whisk will leave ribbon tracks in the cream),remove the cream off the heat and put it into a blender, with the gelatin. Pulse a couple of times, until the gelatin dissolves. Let the cream cool to 140. Add in the butter and process until perfectly smooth. Pour into a container, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Goat Cheese And Fig Cake with Fig Mascarpone Verrine

There is something about blogging that is quite exceptional. I don’t mean all the wonderful friendships, mail exchanges, meetings, packages and other benefits of creating strong bonds over the internet. There is something in the air it seems, whether we get inspired by the same author, recipe or share our discoveries of the “in” food item of the moment. It has been happening to me lately, I come home from the market with a fruit, type of chocolate or a load of yeast and flour. I turn on the computer, check out my favorite blogs, discover new ones through comments left here and elsewhere and find delicious pictures that incorporate exactly what I just brought back in my basket. What has put this sort of cosmic/kismet feeling over the top recently is when I just pulled out something from the oven, set it out to cool on the countertop, read a few blogs, waiting impatiently before things cool enough for me to take a bite, and found that someone has just posted about it…and I made it without even knowing. When it comes to seasonal produce I can understand but a specific item….makes you wonder what water bloggers are drinking…(insert Twilight Zone music here).

Let me illustrate that thought. I was slowly working my way through a giant bag of figs when my favorite Cream Puff, Ivonne announced she was hosting Sugar High Friday “The Beautiful Fig”…Uh, it’s not like she is my neighbor and she is trying to help me go through my loot, but in this case her post was received with both a sigh of relief , “Yes! Something I have, and plenty of it!” and excitement “Yes! I have another excuse to make something fancier than jam on toast!”.

I knew exactly what I wanted to bake. From the day I got Richard Leach’s book last year, I have been wanting to make every single dessert in it. Not only are the pictures exceptional, but the quality of his work is outstanding. I want to push it as to say that I equate him to my sugar daddy Pierre Herme: talented, innovative and funky. I have had my eye on one particular page in the book where one simple item, the Black Mission fig, becomes three impressive creations. Had I had the luxury of time last week, I know I would have tried to put my spin on them but I had to rely on my own creativity to capture the essence of the pages before me and come up with my own interpretation.

The goat cheese cake is so easy to make and so fragrant, I want to make it every single Sunday brunch. It would be fantastic with egg dishes such as omelettes and Benedict but also perfect served as is with a good drizzle of maple syrup. It has a nice crumb, made with both semolina and all purpose flours, and don’t be tempted to skip on the orange zest in it, it really enhances the flavor. The figs on top are simply sliced and drizzled with a little bit of local wild flower honey. Instead of paring the cake with fig sorbet and a fig flan as suggested by Leach, I went for something that would enhance the fresh figs instead of pulverizing them (nothing against sorbet) or cooking them. They were perfectly ripe and very tasty so I just made a little mascarpone cream and pomegranate and cardamom syrup and layered them in a “verrine”, and the spice instantly puts it in another dimension. A bite of cake, a bite of cream and we were in heaven. It may seem like a lot of work, but you can make things over several days as I did: the cake was made early in the week then cut and frozen, the pomegranate sauce keeps easily for a week and the verrine comes together in five minutes top. Eating it took even less time!

Goat Cheese and Fig Cake with Fig Mascarpone Verrine in Pomegranate Syrup:

For the Cake (serves 8)
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup semolina flour
1 cup sugar
1 Tb baking powder
½ tsp. grated orange zest
½ tsp. salt
4 egg whites
½ cup milk
1 cup fresh goat cheese
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
6 to 8 Black Mission Figs, sliced
¼ cup honey (your choice)

Preheat oven to 300F.
Using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, orange zest and salt. In a small bowl, combine the egg whites, goat cheese and milk. Whisk until smooth, then add to the dry ingredients. Whisk in the melted butter. Pour the batter into a buttered and flour 9×9 inch baking pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until firm and lightly golden. Allow to cool. With a 4 inch cookie cutter, cut out 8 rounds, cover with fresh fig slices. Drizzle with the honey.

For the Pomegranate Cardamom Syrup:
In a saucepan set over medium heat, bring 4 cups of pomegranate juice to a boil with 3 whole cardamom pods, reduce heat and simmer until reduced by half. It will thicken as it reduces.

For the Fig and Mascarpone Verrine:
6-8 Black Mission figs, diced
1-11/2 cups pomegranate syrup
8 oz mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
½ cup heavy cream, kept cold
¼ cup sugar

Whip the heavy cream to soft peaks with the sugar and fold it in the mascarpone cheese.
In a 8 glasses, layer the cream, fresh figs, syrup twice, finishing with the figs and syrup. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To serve: pour a small pool of remaining pomegranate syrup on a large plate, set the goat cheese cake on top and serve it with the verrine on the side.

Ivonne, are you seduced yet?…