Holidays really have a tendency to make us marvel at the time gone by year after year don’t they? We shake our heads in denial and wonder how can time fly by this fast. Right now I am grinning as I look at the calendar, thinking that I’ve done a lot and yippee there is way more to do! There are things I’ll happily leave behind when the new year rolls in but overall I am saying out loud "Yes! Let’s do this again and often please!" That’s worth a good slice of pie and glass of milk.
Like most of you celebrating Thanksgiving, the week is going to be a bit of whirlwind at the house. Some of you travel to be with your family, some of you host the traditional dinner, some of you try your best to avoid the madness of it all, stores and crowds. Some of us still have to work and meet deadlines in the middle of it. That’s the holidays indeed.
This year we decided to break the routine and decided that since Christmas was already planned to happen here with B’s family, we could make ourselves scarce and gather some of our favorite people around a table full of good food, good cheers and good talks. If I had one word for the driving force behind this past year for us, it would be "friends" and I am thankful for the ones coming to stay with us this week.
One thing I have learned to bake for Thanksgiving in B’s family was pumpkin pie. And sweet potato pie. And pecan pie. And…well that’s plenty to give you an idea that pumpkin pie was not something I grew up eating or making. I have to admit that up until a few weeks ago I liked it "fine" or "ok". Yes, I am definitely a pecan pie kind of girl. So what changed?
Well. The great thing about photographing cookbooks is the amount of recipes I get to cook and style before anyone else. Like a secret mission. No matter how complicated, long, short, easy…from just ok to outstandingly delicious. There is a bit of a void when a shoot wraps up and I know that once the files are processed and sent off, well the baby is not mine anymore. It grows in the hands of a team of people putting the author’s words together with my images. A part of me does not want it to end.
You can imagine that after finishing Holly Herrick's cookbook shoot a few weeks ago, I was thrilled to hear that her publisher wanted her to post a few recipes on her blog already. Teasers if you want until next Fall that the book comes out. A nice little way to hang on to the fun I had shooting a little longer. I am glad Holly started with the Drunken Pumpkin Bourbon Tart as you can see in the sliced shot which will be in her book. A little sneak peek and a great recipe. Right on time for Thanskgiving.
I am insanely thankful for all the things I got the chance to photograph and write this year. I am grateful for the opportunities to photograph, co-author and author myself in the year to come. I could never have done it without your support and faith in reading the words on this page. Week after week. Thank you guys for all that you have given me. I hope that I gave it back tenfold and more and will work my hardest to keep doing so.
Instead of making pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving this year, I am bringing Pumpkin Semifreddo to my sister-in-law’s. It’s a riff on one of the desserts we had last week in Asheville and given that we devoured 8 of them in record time, I am pretty sure his family will also appreciate the change. It’s cold, creamy, mousse-like with a nice crunch from the gluten free streudel on top. Makes me think of Fall with every bite.
I have always had a soft spot for Asheville during Fall and Winter. When we lived in upstate SC, we would take the beautiful mountain roads and drive around the area, always making a pit stop in there. We had an impromptu getaway in Asheville one Christmas years ago and I dragged B. through the gallery of gingerbread houses on display at The Grove Park Inn. I knew there had been a competition. I had no idea I’d be judging it one day, 5 years later! And with a beautiful friend and work peer as my traveling companion to boot.
Arriving at The Grove Park always makes me feel like I have steppped back in time, somewhere around 1935 when F. Scott Fitzgerald could have been my almost neighbor in room 441 (we were in room 552). Truly a special place, yet one that evolved perfectly with time and where people are the embodiement of Southern hospitality. Fun, gracious, never stuffy and most of all with some of the best foods and drinks around.
I love the view out my kitchen but waking up with this everyday made me rubb my eyes quite a few times. Was I dreaming? What do they put in those drinks that one is constantly beaming to be so peacefully there? Wait, don’t answer that one.
Maybe it’s the food. Maybe it’s the mountain air. On Saturday night, we all gathered for a "Meet&Greet" among the judges and were treated to some fabulous finger foods prepared in the nick of time by one of the hotel kitchens. Crab salad shooters, various kinds of sushi, potstickers, sliders, shots of lemon mousse and Tiramisu. A special drinks menu prepared just for us and greatly enjoyed by yours truly. The Gingerbread White Russian was as close to liquid dessert as one can get. Don’t be fooled though…they hit you like a brick about an hour later.
Yes, there is something magical about The Grove Park this time of year and if you are a sucker for holidays, Christmas, trees and ornaments as much as I am, you will be in heaven walking through the hotel right now. There is a tree in front of every window, each with its own theme. Whether you are a coffee or vintage addict to a Santa and gingerbread figurine lover, you are sure to find a tree for you!
My head was spinning at every corner of the hotel with all this whimsy! Glad I found a compass to navigate my way around, down the stairs, up the elevator, around the piano bar and back to our room!
Actually, this much fun is highly conducive to good nights of sleep. I sleep very little and yet I had no problem here putting my brain to rest, close my eyes and sleep a full night. This proved extremely important for the reason I was there in the first place: judging the National Gingerbread House Competition™.Yeah! Get to work Helen! Stop having that much fun with trees! Trust me, this is not an affair taken lightly by anybody. From the competitors entering, to the staff wheeling the houses in the main ballroom to the judges, armed with clipboards and scoring sheets.
One random thing that hit me around noon is that I should have had more than coffee that morning. After looking at two full rows of houses, the smell of gingerbread was making my stomach growl and my concentration weep. We had 5 criteria on which to base our scores and we took plenty of time to evaluate each and every house thoroughly (from 9.30am to 4.30pm).
There are times when putting the camera down is appropriate, especially when you are surrounded with such seriousness as Colette Peters, Nicholas Lodge, Mark Seaman and Steve Stellingwerf pointing to you the latest trends and techniques. To be honest, just to hear the words pastillage and wafer paper was sending me back years ago when I use to eat, drink and sleep that stuff for work and I *had* to put the camera gear to the side.
I did however sneaked in toward the end and while a hired team was taking full shots of the houses, I wanted to focus on the details and the artistry behind some houses. These are some of my favorites in design and whimsy although they did not make it to my top picks as they did not have enough "gingerbread" elements which is what we had come here to judge. Sometimes you have to put your heart waves aside and focus on that spread sheet. The grand prize and other winners in each category can be viewed here.
I did marvel at The Fruitcake House (pictured above). All the details were blowing me away. From the floor tiling to the cracked eggs on the work table, the nonpareilles, the fruit cake tally chalk boards and so forth and so on.
Another one I admired was the first place winner. It reminded me of the of A Christmas Story and the details were so whimsical and aesthetically perfect that everyone had to stop and admire that one. For some judges, there was "not enough gigerbread" to win Grand Prize for others, it was "the one". Yeah, I know, we’re tough, but in the wash-out of scoring and tabulating, I think that we indeed picked all the houses that deserved to be in the Top 10.
I just love the aesthetics and color scheme of that one!
It was a long and exhausting day but we were rewarded with a fantastic dinner at Horizons where I had the chance to sit across Colette and Steve and talk shop, sugar and cake for a few hours. I was also blown away by Mark’s fluent French and truly envy his yearly excursion to France to tour Patisseries.
Before I get to the recipe I want to extend a huge "Thank You" to my fellow judges, to Jeff, Brian "The Gingerbread Man", Susan, Ron and Rick who made our stay so pleasant and memorable. You guys know your stuff and do it well. Bravo.
We have had many reasons to feel lost this year but we have many more reasons to be grateful, starting with our family, our friends and your constant support and visits. Thank You. Have a fantastic Thanksgiving!
Now…let’s talk Pumpkin Semifreddo…
During our lavish dinner at Horizons at The Grove Park Inn, we were presented with a delicious selection of desserts, some I had had the pleasure to make before and one that made everyone ask for more, the Pumpkin Semifreddo. I did not ask for a recipe because it is pretty straightforward to reproduce and instead of doing a full blown plated dessert as we had that night, I served mine in jars and other ramekins for a more casual presentation.
For the semifreddo:
1 cup (250ml) heavy cream
3 tablespoons (65gr)honey (I like wildflower the best)
2 tablespoons (25gr) sugar
2 tablespoons water
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup (120gr) pumkin puree (I used canned as I was making 150 of these for a catered event but feel free to make your own puree from fresh and cooked pumpkin)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
For the crumble topping:
1/2 cup (80 gr) sweet brown rice flour
1/4 cup tapioca (30gr) flour
1/4 cup sorghum (30gr) flour
1/2 cup (100 gr) light packed brown sugar
1/2 stick (55 gr) unsalted butter, softened
Prepare the Semifreddo:
In the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with the whisk attachment or hand held one with ballon whisks, beat the cream until it just holds soft peaks. Refrigerate it while you prepare the base of the ice cream. Wash your bowl and whisk attachment.
In a heavy saucepan, stir together the honey, sugar, and the water. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Since you are not making caramel, it is ok to stir occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. Let it boil and bring the mixture registers 238°F on a candy thermometer.
This second part is easier to do with a hand held mixer than a KA for example since the quantity of egg yolks is small and the bowl tends to be deep in some models. It works, have no fear…it’s just easier with a hand held one.
In the clean bowl of your mixer, still using the whisk attachment, beat the yolks for a minute to loosen them up. Reduce speed to medium and pour the hot honey mixture in a steady stream over them. Go fast enough to prevent the eggs from scrambling but not so fast that you end up with most of the syrup on the wall of the bowl or the whisk. Continue to whip at medium-high speed until the mass is completely cold and airy.
Fold about one third of the chilled whipped cream into the semifreddo base to loosen it up and make it easier to incorporate homogeneously. Add the pumkin puree, the spices and the remaining whipped cream and fold until everything is incorporated.
Divide mixture evenly among dishes cover with plastic wrap and freeze until set.
Prepare the topping:
Preheat the oven to 350F.
In a medium bowl, blend the flours, sugar and butter with your fingertips or a pastry cutter to form large clumps of dough. Lay them on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool to room temperature before breaking the clumps into smaller crumbs.
When ready to serve, take the ramekins out of the freezer 15 to 20 minutes ahead of time so they have a "half frozen' consistency and top each semifreddo with some crumble and some whipped cream if desired.
————————————————————————————- [Full Disclosure] As a guest of The Grove Park Inn, I did not pay for the room and dinners (friday through monday). Any meals and drinks that were not part of the group scheduled ones (saturday brunch-nightcaps at the hotel) were paid by me. I drove my own little self there, on my own little gas money.
With the holidays just upon us, I hope you won’t mind a little pre-Thanksgiving dessert and have to let you in on a little secret: I won’t be cooking or baking this Thanksgiving. Argh!!! Horror!!! Truth is, I never cook or bake that day as I am reminded each year that it is not "my" holiday. Well yes, French people did not have Pilmgrims and Native Americans (we had Romans and Vikings but that’s another story), but Thanksgiving is important to my American. I know that Thanksgiving is more than that, the viking-pilgrim thing is just a joke between us when people ask me what the French do for T-Day. What is important to B. is important to me. In his family dynamics however, I get to sit this one out.
I love entertaining, holiday cooking and baking, having a bunch of friends and dear ones around. Planning, making the menus…I miss this greatly being so far away from my family most holidays. Comes Thanksgiving and my head is spinning with recipes, both sweet and savory and I get to relax. Horror!! I am serious here, I know a lot of you super master entertainers and foodies can relate!! By Christmas I am so terribly homesick that we elope to the mountains and regroup while B. lets me reminisce about my Christmases by home.
If anything, I live for my family dinners as his family is way smaller and calmer. There are no less than 20-30 people at my parents' house gathering around the table for Christmas Eve and just about the same number on Christmas day. There are kids everywhere, toys all over the place, bottles behind curtains (remind me to tell you about that when we get closer to Christmas). There is virtually no room to move around, the garage is the same temperature as the refrigerator so my parents' car is transformed into a cheese and dessert shelf. There is noise, loud noise, jokes, laughters, discussions, disagreements. We eat and chat for hours. B. will say that he needs to train a couple of weeks in advance to match the 6 hour festivities of eating and drinking two days in a row. We do take our time and talk a lot in between courses. One year we tried to rush so that my grandparents would get to bed at a decent hour but they got mad and stayed up with us until 2am….we did not tell them we kept at it until 4am!
One of the things I learned early on about my husband is his love for two Thanksgiving classics: pecan and pumpkin pies. Pecan pie was an easy one to get used to when I moved to the US as it was very close to our "tarte aux noix" that we have in the North. The concept of pumpkin pie was new to me yet completely fascinating. When I exclaimed "pumpkin? In a pie?", he was quick to say "you guys preserve all chestnuts in sugar syrup and then glaze them with more sugar syrup…and you eat them…just like that!!" Ah yes, the Marron Glace! I could see his point, it’s an acquired taste. However, a taste for a cold slice of pumpkin pie is ve-ry easy to acquire!!
Even if we don’t get to have the family over on that special Thursday, we created our own tradition years ago by hosting a pre-Thanksgiving dinner the week before with a few of our close friends. We gather early around in the kitchen and dining area and we cook and bake together wile chatting and sipping wine. Each person has his or her favorite thing to make and eat and early on I started combining my heritage and B’s by combining ingredients I’d find here in dishes I would make back home.
One thing I love in the world of sweet things is meringue. I can eat meringue all day and never reach the bottom of the cookie jar. When time came bring dessert to our gatherings the first thing that came to my mind was to make a Pumpkin Meringue Pie, combining two of our childhood favorites. I like to use a sable base instead of the traditional pate brisee crust and once the filling is baked, I pipe rosettes of Italian meringue on top and use the blow torch to finish it off. We have had this way for the past ten years so I guess you could say we now have our own tradition for Thanksgiving albeit a week early!!
Pumpkin Meringue Tartelettes:
Makes 8 small tartelettes (3 inches diameter) or one 9 inch round pie
1 stick (115 gr) butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (93 gr) powdered sugar
1 large egg
1 1 /2 cups (188gr) flour
2 tablespoons (20 gr) cornstarch (makes for a lighter crumb)pinch of salt
In a mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and mix until combined. Add the flour, cornstarch and salt and mix briefly to incorporate. Dump the whole mixture onto a lightly floured board and gather the dough into a smooth ball. Do not work the dough while in the mixer or it will toughen up. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour. When the dough is nice and cold, roll it out on a lightly floured board or in between the sheets of plastic. You will have extra dough that you can save for another use in the fridge for up to 5 days or frozen, well wrapped for up to 3 months. Cut out 8 rounds two inches larger than your pastry rings. Fit the dough inside the rings with your fingertips and trim the edges with a sharp knife. Line the rings with small squares of parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dry beans. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes. Let cool.
For the Pumpkin Filling:
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin (not the whole can but 8 oz)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
2/3 cup whole milk
In a large bowl, beat the egg and sugar until pale. Add the pumpkin, spices and salt and mix until just incorporated. Add the milk and slowly and mix well. Divide the batter among the cooled tart rings and bake for 20-30 minutes at 350F until the batter looks like it is just set, don’t overcook or it will crack on you. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before proceeding with the meringue topping.
For the Italian Meringue:
2 egg whites (60 grams)
1/2 cup (100gr) sugar
2 tablespoons water
In a heavy bottom saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil and cook the mixture until it reaches 245-248F on a candy thermometer. In the meantime, start beating the egg whites firm peaks but not stiff or dry. When the sugar syrup has reached the proper temperature, slowly add it to the egg whites with the mixer on low-medium speed. Once all the sugar has been poured in, turn the speed to high and beat until the meringue has cooled. Place it in a piping bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe rosettes of meringue on top of the tartelettes. Use a blowtorch to slightly caramelize the tops or place them under the broiler in your oven but make sure to keep a close eye on them.
All summer long upon entering the grocery store I would grab a basket, stop at the sushi counter, pass by the salad bar, turn the corner and with my eyes closed reach in the plum and nectarine display to my left. The most visible display as you enter the store. All summer long, I would pick three of each and make a beeline for the cherries and the figs before resuming with the rest of the items on my list. Summer reached an end. Pears replaced cherries and figs turned into dates. Expected.
I still went to the store and turned the same corners, walked down the same aisles even when Autumn pointed its lovely little chilly mornings (well, for about 3 days). Last week, as I walked by the main display and reached for the plums and nectarines, I found myself holding three decorative mini gourds instead. "C’est quoi cette histoire?" What is going on? Well I really said "quesaco", Provencal for the same expression which attracted a different set of puzzled looks. After the courgettes and aubergines, the kid working at the produce section thought I was asking about a specific gourd and was already running to the back room. I feel that if I am still around at 80-90 years old, I will become that "odd lady", the ghost of the grocery store. Seriously…let’s hope I am not that "creepy odd lady".
With the summer produce moved to the back of the store, it was time I gave those little pumpkins a whirl and let Fall sit at the kitchen table while I bake and write. There are days it is difficult to wax poetic about a cherry dessert for the book when the aromas of mulled wine and apple cider are coming from next door. We still do not have anything that resembles Fall here but we like to practice. We gather wood, we make pretty piles, we shop for scarves and try to knit. We get in the spirit even if we can’t wear our coats. We get excited with the first whisper of Northern wind.
I am doing just that. I bought a few mini pumpkins and gourds and turned them into votives, set them on the dining room table to set the mood. I cooked the flesh down and was left with about half a cup, which was a little too little for pumpkin pie. I thought about mixing it with some cream cheese to make a couple of small cheesecakes. While rummaging through the fridge, I spotted a container of egg whites, and the package of saffron, next to the almonds. The fridge was making the recipe up for me, signs of macarons everywhere!! I needed a little snack to take next door to our weekly neighbors' gathering and was not sure how the concoction forming in my head would be received. I settled on lightly infused saffron shells with a simple cream cheese and pumpkin filling with just a touch of cloves.
In the past year, a lot of people have started to make macarons on a more regular basis and the first remark I read for first timers is how surprisingly very sweet they are. Ah, yes…I guess we forgot to tell you…they are! That’s why they are small, sold individually or in small box and are best shared with a group of friends. Back home, we eat one with coffee or tea, not like a handfull animal crackers in the middle of the afternoon, not that there is anything wrong with that. Hence, I like to use a slightly less sweet filling and cream cheese is fantastic in that regard and works great with all sorts of flavors.
The second most frequently asked question is what is the best way to pipe even shells all the time. When you do macarons regularly, it becomes difficult not to. Your hands repeat the motions. Over the years, your wrists have registered the nuances and your hands repeat the motion. I always write back the same thing "Hold your tip at a 45 degree angle. Press the filling through your pastry bag from the top down . Practice, practice, practice". Some people are ingenious and smart thinkers and tediously trace circles on parchment paper, invert the sheet, pipe and bake. That takes time and patience. Maybe it is a reason why people make macarons once and never again? On top of the required nut grinding, meringue folding just so…there is piping even circles so they can be paired up aesthetically and not look like distant cousins.
Guess what? Somebody has come up with the solution for you. No…not me. Her. When Helena first posted about macarons, I noticed a sheet full of macaron shell imprints and told her that many macarons novices would probably love to use such a tool to make even shells on their first tries. She graciously replicated her template and came up with two shell sizes available to download and print. Ok, so even if I don’t "need" a template, I love crafty people and things, so you know I had to give these a try!! She also added a set of diagonal patterns for trained sticklers (no offense, I am there). I printed out both templates on card stock paper, sneaked one sheet under my parchment paper and piped, slid the template away and baked the shells. Easy peasy! Thank you Helena! One more difficulty out of the way for those tempted to try macarons….
Saffron Pumpkin Macarons:
Makes 12-18 macarons, depending size
Note: I did whip the egg whites with the saffron together without a problem, but if you fear that your whites might not foam up properly because the saffron has taken on moisture or oiliness, ground the almonds with the saffron instead and proceed with the recipe as written.
3 egg whites (about 90 gr)
1/2 tsp saffron
40 gr granulated sugar
200 gr powdered sugar
110 gr almonds
For the whites: the day before (24hrs), separate your eggs and store the whites at room temperature in a covered container. If you want to use 48hrs (or more) egg whites, you can store them in the fridge. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam with the saffron, 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 almonds and powdered sugar in a food processor and give them a good pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Pass through a sieve.
Add them to the meringue, give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that flows like magma or a thick ribbon. Give quick strokes at first to break the mass and slow down.
The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809) with the batter and pipe small rounds (1.5 inches in diameter) onto parchment paper lined baking sheets.
Preheat the oven to 300F. Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to 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. Once baked and if you are not using them right away, store them in an airtight container out of the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer.
Cream Cheese Pumpkin Filling:
2 oz (60gr) cream cheese, at room temperature
2 oz (60gr) freshly cooked or canned pumpkin
1/8 tsp ground cloves
In a medium bol, mix the cream cheese, pumpkin and cloves until completely incorporated.
Fill a pastry bag with this mixture and pipe onto half the shells and top with another shell.
Let me start this by a little clarification. On my previous post about the Daring Bakers' Potato Bread challenge, I said that Tartelette was anti-carb….followed by a big "Yeah right…"! Obviously my sense of humor does not translate very well in writing because I am 100% "Pro-Carb". Trust me!! This said…
This week is just flying by….started slow for, about two hours and then I got bombarded with training requests and baking orders. Small things taking a long time and I was started to wonder if I was going to post these on time for the party. What party? My baking pal, Peabody is hosting a virtual housewarming party at her new and gorgeous abode next week.
I thought long and hard about what I wanted to bring. Needs to travel easily (which can be easily done with this), needs to feed a bunch of people because from the look of things we are going in numbers, but most importantly I wanted to make something for her. Although she never fails to surprise me, I think pumpkin and mascarpone are sure values with this lady. Since we also seem to share a love for all things small, cupcakes seemed like a good way to combine both in one sweet treat.
I wish I could say I went and bought a fresh pumpkin, gutted it out and used the flesh in the cupcakes…that would be like telling you I went and milked my own cow and waited patiently on the milk creaming process to make mascarpone…that would be a lie. If one Mrs.L is cool enough to put that pumpkin in the can, then I am cool enough to use it. The week is flying by remember…and I still need my four-five hours of sleep! If, on the other hand you are opposed to the idea, by all means, go ahead and use fresh. Sara, from I Like To Cook has great instructions for it here. If you can’t find or don’t like (crazy you!) mascarpone, by all means substitute cream cheese in the frosting. Feel free to decorate the cupcakes any way you like. I used hard candy pebbles for these for a more winter look but feel free to use other sprinkles or candies, or keep them plain. The recipe is a combination of several I have tried over the years and I am now finally happy with all the ratios, fat, pumpkin, spices, flour, etc….
Preheat oven to 350°F. Place baking cups in muffin pan.
Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine pumpkin, vanilla extract and milk in a separate bowl. Mix flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Add to butter/sugar mixture alternately with pumpkin/milk batter, mixing thoroughly after each addition.
Divide evenly among the cupcake liners and bake 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool completely before frosting.
Mascarpone Cheese Frosting:
16 oz mascarpone cheese (1 pound), at room temperature
1 stick butter, at room temperature
4-5 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
In an electric mixer, beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed until creamy. Add 4 cups of the powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat until combined. Add more sugar, little by little until you get to the consistency and sweetness you like. If the frosting gets too stiff, add some milk, one teaspoon at a time.
I often post about the most important women in my life, my mother and grandmother but I rarely post about my dad. Why? Because if I did, I would not have many secret left to you…we are very much alike…very much. Sometimes, I find that disturbing because it’s like looking at your personality in a mirror, with all your faults and cracks. See, my dad talks a lot but he never really reveals much about himself. He’s private, he does not ask questions. He’s discreet, he does not want to make you uncomfortable.
All these apply except when it comes to cheesecake….Oh he will be a true gentleman and wait patiently for dessert but then only two words will be uttered by this General: "cheesecake please!" and then I dare you to try to get a bite from his plate. If you have never been met with a cold grey stare, (yep, his eyes are grey, for real), wait until you try to sneak a nibble from his plate. You have guessed it, I am the same…
When I was growing up in France, we did not know cheesecakes. I had vaguely heard of "gateau de fromage blanc" or "tarte au fromage blanc", there were not traditional of my family so it was not until I moved to the US that I had the pleasure of trying the cream cheese based cheesecakes (which can easily substituted with Kiri in France). When I became in charge of the pastry kitchen at the restaurant, I kept the cheesecake on the menu and gave myself a little playroom by changing it every time I had to make a new one which was probably every other day (creme brulee being the most popular, go figure…). I loved the traditional flavor of vanilla, chocolate and berries but I also loved to stray a little with Earl Grey cheesecake, Apple Tatin, and Pineapple Upside Down. It helped that I had an awesome waitstaff to tell me frankly if it was going to fly or not, but one that was sure to hit the spot in November – December was always the Pumpkin Praline Cheesecake. What was best is that I could use up all those giant cans/vats (Libby’s multiplied by 20) of pumpkin puree….useful but not my favorite color at 4am! I could not turn enough of these and every time a friend would ask me to bring cheesecake for dessert, I would *always* bring something else…enough of that thing (and I am not the only pastry cook in this case!).
However, with the years going by, I am slowly making cheesecakes again for fun…and my father…and Sugar High Friday this month. Leslie, from Definitely Not Martha has chosen Beta Carotene as the theme this month and that includes "gourds and roots – pumpkin, squash, sweet potato, etc…" So there you have it, I decided to make a yummy cheesecake and pretend it was healthi-er because loaded with good for you pumpkin and topped with even better for you fresh pomegranate. For the crust I just crushed some locally made pecan pralines, and scattered them at the bottom. The recipe makes one large cheesecake but in traditional Tartelette fashion I made four small ones and eight two-bite ones. I wish I could send a couple to my father but he is just going to have to lick his screen…sorry dad!
Pumpkin Praline Cheesecake:
1 cup pecan pralines, crushed
1 1/2 cups solid pack pumpkin
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
three 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla
whipped cream and pomegranate seeds to decorate
Scatter the praline crumbs at the bottom of one 10 inch springform pan, lined with parchment paper and coated with cooking spray (or several pans if you decided to go minis).
Preheat oven to 350F.
In a bowl whisk together the pumpkin, the egg, the cinnamon, the nutmeg, the ginger, the salt, and the brown sugar. In a large bowl with an electric mixer cream together the cream cheese and the granulated sugar, beat in the cornstarch, the vanilla, and the pumpkin mixture, and beat the filling until it is smooth.
Pour the filling into the crust, bake the cheesecake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the center is just set. Let the cheesecake cool in the pan on a rack and chill it, covered, overnight.
When ready to serve, spoon some whipped cream and pomegranate seeds on top.
Today, it actually felt like Fall for the first time. There was a little chill in the air this morning as we left for work, and we actually had to wear a little cardigan this evening while watching the sunset. The kind of weather that makes me very, very happy… I have been impatiently awaiting a good reason to make fall favorites such as pumpkins, cranberries, pomegranates and so forth. It is rather unusual to pop by the neighbors' house on a hot humid day with pumpkin praline pies and have they exclaimed "yeah, we had been craving those!". I tend to bring more fruit filled desserts or frozen ones. However, when I walked up the stairs to the twins' house with a small box of these tartelettes, I knew everybody had fall on their mind and a little place for them. C. opened the box while we were chatting on the steps and before we knew it there was cofffe brewing and the other neighbors chatting things up with us while the kids were already devising their Halloween parade….oh yeah, this year it is a parade!!
I know you have had or/and made countless amounts of pumpkin pies before so why would I was poetic about these? Well, there are the first I make this season and that is something so be tlaked about after month of scorching ht summer days and temperature refusing to drop below 80 degrees at night. It just feels nice to say the words "pumpkin pie". The tartlets were further enhanced by homemade butter pecan ice cream showcasing the first pecans our tree gave us and the delightful Moravian cookies we brought back from Winston – Salem this past weekend. Thanks again Abby for all your suggestions: Sweet Potaotes and their sister restaurant, The Cotton Mill were both great destinations for dinners the Reynolda house and Old Salem were incredible and we threw in the battlefield in Greensboro for good measure!
Back to the tartelettes….all my favorites in a couple of bites: an almond shorbread crust, rich pumpkin and praline filling and a little touch of ice cream because…well…just because homemade ice cream rocks! For the praline, I used this paste I was given by another pastry chef in town, a sales rep. dropped two of and she wanted me to give her my opinion. Being as busy as the next person, I like the convenience of already made pastry "aids" like nut pastes and fruit purees and this particular one did not disappoint. You can also make hazelnut praline (caramelized hazelnuts) and grind it fine and use as such in the following recipe, but you can find good and affordable pastes on the internet nowadays that will your time more efficient in the kitchen. The dough is my go-to nut and butter dough inspired by Dorie Greenspan. Feel free to change the nuts in it, walnuts work as good as (even better in my taste) almonds. It needs to be rolled between sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper and kept as cold as possible, even when handling. Use your fingertips to pat and patch it if it tears. The filling is inspired by the same Richard Leach I love and admire so much, except that I do not have time this week to follow through with his beautifully designed plated desserts. It was my first try at butter pecan ice cream and it has now become a new favorite. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can freeze the custard for a couple of hours, beat it with an electric mixer and refreeze again, repeating the operation 2-3 times, until you get a proper ice cream consistency. Feel free to use your favorite cookies for the ice cream sandwiches (the Moravian cookies I used had a ginger flavor).
Pumpkin Praline Tartelettes with Butter Pecan Ice Cream
Makes 8 4 inch tartelettes
Almond Short Dough: In a food processor, combine 1 1/4 cups flour, 1/2 cup powdered sugar, 1/4 cup walnuts and 1 stick of butter, pulse until it resembles coarse meal, add 1 egg yolk and pulse until combined into a ball. Flatten the into a disk in between sheets of plastic wrap, refrigerate and roll it out to cut rounds big enough to fit into 8 mini tart pans. The dough gets soft very fast so you can flour your fingertips to push it up and down the sides and bottom of the pan.
Bake at 300 for 10 minutes. Let cool before filling them.
Pumpkin Praline Filling:
1 ½ cups pumpkin puree (I used canned)
¼ cup praline paste
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ cup milk
Pinch of salt
¾ cup heavy cream
In a large bowl beat the eggs with the sugar until combines. Combine the pumpkin and praline paste and cinnamon and add to the egg mixture. Slowly whisk in the milk and the cream. Divide evenly among the tart shells and bake at 300 for 20 minutes or until the custard just starts to set. Let cool to room temperature.
Butter Pecan Ice Cream:
Makes 1 quart
2 cups pecans (1/2 lb), chopped ( I like mine coarse)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cups packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
4 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350°F. Toast pecans in a shallow baking pan in middle of oven for 7 to 8 minutes. Add butter and salt to hot pecans and toss until butter is melted, then cool pecans completely.
Whisk together brown sugar, granulated sugar and cornstarch, then whisk in the eggs until combined. Bring milk and cream just to a boil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, then add to egg mixture in a stream, whisking constantly, and transfer custard back to the saucepan.
Cook custard over medium low heat heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thick enough to coat back of spoon (do not let boil).
Immediately pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and stir in vanilla, then cool, stirring occasionally. Chill custard, its surface covered with wax paper, until cold, at least 3 hours.
Freeze custard in ice cream maker until almost firm. Stir together ice cream and pecans in a bowl, then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden.
Use your favorite cookies to make small sandwiches and serve along side the pumpkin tartelettes (which I decorated with chopped pecan brittle for their photo shoot)