Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Cookies and Cream Chocolate Towers

When I saw the picture for these I was immediately drawn into the recipe.  You can't deny their allure.  They look like triple stacked Oreos or something.  And who doesn't like Oreos?

No one.  That's who.  It's America's cookie.  That said, I actually do have one qualm with the Oreo.  Admittedly, I've never been all that "into" the cookie portion of it.  I'm more of a cream person.

In fact, my favorite type of Oreos are the double-stuffed ones.  The whole cookie-cream combo works great but the cream is what really shines through for me.  With that in mind, when I saw this recipe I was concerned that there was a whole lotta cookie in those towers.

Grant it, there's clearly a lot of cream too but like an Oreo--in my opinion--unless you have a double-stuffed one, the cookie over-powers the cream filling.  Plus, it's too crisp--I like a cookie with a softer edge.

But, after making these chocolate towers, I assumed wrong--for the most part.  Yes, the cookie does sorta over-power the cream but I didn't care when it comes to these cookies.  I didn't care because these cookies were tender and chocolatey and melt-in-your-mouth good--not anything like the Oreo.

I was afraid they were going to be crispy and upon biting into one, all of the amazing cream would be squeezed out.  But no.  Nope.  No way Jose.  The cookie is like a chocolatey soft sugar/butter cookie and it gently collapses when you bite into it--unlike the Oreo which tends to crack and crumble.

And the cream is light but sweet and plentiful.  It's a pure delight to eat.  So with that I encourage everyone to make these because yes they are tall but they are cute too. And they're better than the Oreo.

Recipe slightly adapted from Food & Wine

Chocolate cookies:

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter softened at room temp.
3/4c powdered sugar
1 large egg at room temp.
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4c unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4c all-purpose flour

-In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachement, beat the butter and sugar together until well combined
-Add the egg and vanilla and beat until well combined
-Add the cocoa powder and salt and mix until just combined
-Add the flour and mix until just combined
-Divide the dough into two discs and wrap each tightly in plastic wrap
-Refrigerate until firm--at least 1 hour--or overnight
-After the dough is firm, preheat the oven to 325F
-Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat
-Roll out the dough onto a lightly floured clean surface
-Using a 2 1/2" round cookie/biscuit cutter, cut out at least 30 cookies
-Place cookies on the prepared baking sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes
-Remove from oven and let cool completely

Chocolate pastry cream:

1c half-and-half
3 large egg yolks
1/4c granulated sugar
1 1/2 tbsps all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
3 oz semi-sweet chocolate melted
1 tsp vanilla extract

-Set a fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl and set aside
-In the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whisk the egg yolks, flour, sugar and salt together until pale and fluffy and then turn off mixer
-In a medium saucepan bring the half-and-half to an almost simmer--just heat until you see bubbles form around the edges of the pan and it starts to steam a bit
-When the half-and-half has started to steam, turn mixer back on low and slowly pour half of the warm half-and-half into the egg mixture and whisk until just combined
-Pour the egg/half-and-half mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the half-and-half
-Put the saucepan back on the stove and heat over medium heat whisking constantly until the mixture has thickened and just starts to slowly bubble
-Remove the saucepan from the heat and pour in the melted chocolate and vanilla and whisk until fully combined
-Strain the pastry cream through the fine mesh strainer into a medium bowl
-Place a piece of plastic wrap directly over the pastry cream and refrigerate until it is completely cool and chilled--maybe 1 hour or so

Whipped Cream:

1c heavy cream
1 tsp powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

-In the bowl of stand mixer, whisk all of the ingredients on high speed until stiff peaks form

To assemble everything

-Transfer 3/4 of the whipped cream mixture to a small bowl and add 3 tbsps of the chocolate pastry cream to it and mix until fully combined and a light chocolate mixture forms
-Then take 3 separate pastry bags fitted with large plain tips and add the chocolate pastry cream to one, the light chocolate cream mixture to another and the whipped cream to the last
-Now lay out all 30 cookies onto a clean work surface
-Pipe the chocolate pastry cream onto 12 cookies--about a tablespoon of it
-Pipe the light chocolate cream onto 6 cookies--again about a tablespoon
-Pipe the whipped cream onto the remaining 12 cookies--another tablespoon or so
-Next stack the towers as illustrated:  Start with a chocolate pastry cream cookie, top it with light chocolate cream one followed by a whipped cream cookie and then another chocolate pastry cream cookie and lastly another whipped cream topped cookie.
-Lastly, pipe a dollop of the chocolate pastry cream onto the top of each cookie stack
-Refrigerate the cookie stacks for at least 6 hours to overnight until they are set
-Consume ravenously

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Belated Birthday Cake

There's an amazing bakery in San Diego called Extraordinary Desserts that my partner and I frequent when we visit.  However, let me define what I mean by "frequent."  Our visits usually consist of an extended weekend of a mere three days.  Thus our frequenting means that we pretty much go each day...  They have extremely decadent cakes--like over the top decadence--if such a thing can be said.  And it can, because I've been to this bakery.

They fill their cakes with rich mousses and douse them in sweet syrups and then cover them in light creamy frostings.  There's this one particular cake that caught my partners taste buds called the Creme Ivoire.  Last year when we went, he ordered it on each visit.  Needless to say he was quite taken with this cake.  So, when I asked what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday this year he wasn't sure at first.  But then as I started listing off types of cakes I mentioned the Creme Ivoire--which neither of us actually remembered the name--and he stopped me and asked if I thought I could actually make that cake.

I was quite offended.  Of course I could make that cake!  But before I said that to him, we scoured the menu on the bakery's website until we found the one he adored so much.  I read the description which went something like this: A pound cake (I can make that) soaked in vanilla bean syrup (check) filled with white chocolate mousse (been done before) and covered in whipped cream (easy peasy). So yes, I felt I was quite capable of making this cake.  Well I was sorta right and sorta wrong.

The cake part was fine, the syrup couldn't have been easier but it was the mousse that got me.  It wasn't that I couldn't make the mousse because I could and did and it was rich and spectacularly light--perhaps exactly what a mousse should be.  But what this particular mousse shouldn't be is a filling for a cake--at least not one with six layers of pound cake sandwiching it.  I mean they don't call pound cake pound cake because it's light.  Anyway, basically--if you haven't guessed--the mousse was spilling out the sides of the cake and the layers were sliding off of one another.

So I grabbed some chop sticks and pierced the cake with them to hold the layers in place.  But that was really just a temporary fix and then I got mad at the whole mess and threw the cake in the trash.  My partner was upset.  But I explained what had happened and he accepted it and then I told him I'd go and get him a Dinkels cake for his birthday--which is a bakery that makes cakes we both love.  I also promised him that I would try again to make the same cake--a belated one.  So then I made a new mousse that was specified as a good cake filling and again, it was a great mousse.  But I still ended up with the same problem and I still ended up sticking more chop sticks in the cake to  prevent the layers from sliding and I got mad again.  But I didn't throw the cake away this time.  I threw it in the freezer instead.  And decided to encase the whole cake in white chocolate to create a sort of shell that would prevent the mousse from spilling out and keep the layers in check.  I probably could have just kept it refrigerated but it seemed like a cool idea.  In the end, the cake was probably nothing like the one at Extraordinary Desserts.  But it was good and decadent and I used it as an excuse to do some fancy decorations too.


"Perfect Pound Cake" from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

3 tablespoons (45g) of whole milk at room temperature
3 large eggs (150g) at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2c (150g) cake flour
3/4c (150g) granulated sugar
3/4tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
13 tablespoons (184g) butter softened at room temperature

-Preheat oven to 350 F
-Grease two 6" cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper
-Sift all of the dry ingredients together in the bowl of a stand mixer
-With a paddle attachment, turn the mixer on for 30 seconds on the lowest setting just to ensure that all of the dry ingredients are well combined
-In a separate medium bowl, combine the eggs, milk and vanilla and lightly beat until well combined
-Add the butter to the dry ingredients and half of the egg/milk/vanilla mixture and turn the mixer on the lowest setting  and continue mixing on the lowest setting until the dry ingredients are well moistened (30-45s)
-Turn the mixer on to a medium-high setting and let it mix for 1 minute
-Turn the mixer off and add half of of the remaining egg/milk/vanilla mixture
-Turn the mixture on low-medium and mix until combined (30-45s)
-Repeat with the remaining egg/milk/vanilla mixture
-Divide the batter evenly between the two greased parchment paper lined cake pans and smooth/even the batter
-Bake for 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean
-Remove from the oven and let cool at least 10 minutes in the pans before removing from pans

Vanilla sugar syrup

1/2c (100g) granulated sugar
1/2c water
1/2 vanilla bean

-Combine the water and sugar into a small-medium saucepan
-Scrape the seeds of the vanilla bean into the pan along with the pod
-Bring to a boil over medium heat until all of the sugar is dissolved
-Remove from heat and let cool completely

White chocolate mousse slightly adapted from Food and Wine

1/2 tsp unflavored powdered gelatin
1/2 tablespoon water
1/2c chilled heavy cream
2 tablespoons water or a flavored liqueur
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons of sugar
pinch of salt
4 oz white chocolate melted and cooled

-In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let stand until softened
-In the bowl of stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whisk the cream until soft peaks are formed and then refrigerate for about 10 minutes
-In a small bowl, heat the water or liqueur in a microwave on high for about 45 seconds
-Remove from microwave and stir in the gelatin--set aside
-In another separate bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks with the sugar and salt until the yolks are pale in color and the mixture is thickened (5 min)
-Next, beat in the water or liqueur/gelatin mixture
-Then beat in the white chocolate
-Remove bowl from the mixture and in two additions, fold in the chilled whipped cream
-Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours until the mousse is set

Whipped cream

1c chilled heavy whipping cream
Granulated sugar to taste (depending upon how sweet you want the cream--I used about 2 tablespoons)

-Place the chilled whipping cream in the bowl of stand mixer
-With a whisk attachment, whisk the cream on medium-high speed
-When the whisk begins to leave tracks in the cream--the cream is thickening--slowly add the sugar and whisk until hard peaks form

8oz white chocolate melted and cooled (this is more than you'll need but you can always just let the extra white chocolate harden and use it for another recipe)

To put everything together (work as quickly as you can--you may need to refrigerate/freeze intermittently while you work to ensure that the mousse doesn't get too soft and things start to fall apart)

-First, slice each cake layer in half using a long serrated knife
-Next, lay one layer on your serving platter with the cut side facing up
-Using a pastry brush, brush the cooled vanilla sugar syrup on the layer evenly--don't drench it--just moisten it
-Add 1/3 of the while chocolate mousse on top of the bottom layer and spread evenly--or just let the weight of the next layer push it out over the layer...
-Repeat with the next 2 layers
-Add the last/top layer
-Wrap the cake in plastic wrap lightly and place in the freezer for at least 1 hour--mine was in there for a day...
-After the hour is up, remove the cake from the fridge/freezer and remove from the serving platter. -Place the cake on a cooling rack set over a cookie sheet and pour the cooled melted white chocolate over the cake and use an offset spatula to guide it/smooth it out and to scrape off any excess white chocolate from the cake
-Carefully place the cake back on the serving platter and back in the fridge/freezer until the chocolate is set
-Once the chocolate has set, remove the cake from the fridge/freezer and frost with the whipped cream
-Decorate as desired--or just leave plain
-Refrigerate until ready to eat

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Rhubarb Hand Pies

I could go on and on about how big of a pain in the ass making pie crust can be but this time it turned out pretty good so I just won't go there.  Instead I'll remark on the ease at which these seem to disappear after they're introduced to a bunch of people at a barbeque and the joy it was to finally get some rhubarb and make something with it.  

I've actually made 3 rhubarb desserts since it started showing up at the farmers market.  

These hand pies, a rhubarb crisp and a white chocolate mousse tart that I screwed up and then had the gall to serve to my co-workers knowing that it was going to taste just so (my apologies for that to any of you that are going to or will read this).  

All of this rhubarb madness got me thinking about why rhubarb is so popular as a dessert item.  I mean, it's actually a vegetable. 

I realize it isn't the first vegetable to be integrated within desserts-- which got me thinking more about things like zucchini bread and carrot cake.  

What's the point of adding these otherwise healthy foods into not-so-healthy baked goods?  It doesn't make the baked good any healthier.  

And let's be honest, do we like carrot cake and zucchini bread and strawberry rhubarb pie because these things actually taste like the vegetables that get baked into them?  Well, I kinda don't think so.  I think that as long as we pile a bunch of sugar on top of anything it's eventually going to taste good..  I could pulse and mince up some broccoli and fold it into my chocolate cake batter and I bet it would still taste good as long as I put a lot of sugar in it.  Right?

Well, maybe.  Maybe not.  I've never actually tried that and I could be wrong.  Maybe my cake would taste like broccoli or maybe it would taste just like chocolate cake with some added green "texture".  But what I do know is that I actually might be wrong about all of this because of these hand pies.

Yes yes, these hand pies have a good amount of sugar in them but it doesn't stop the one major characteristic of rhubarb from coming through which is its tartness.  Rhubarb is tart and I think that as long as you don't overwhelm your recipe with sugar--and other spices/ingredients--you can find a great balance and that tart trait can shine through gracefully.  In fact I think you could kick back the sugar amount even more and it would still be an amazing dessert that screamed rhubarb.  There are tons of recipes that always combine it with strawberries--and for good reason--but I think that rhubarb deserves its day in the sun.  These hand pies make the case for rhubarb.  Make them. Savor them. Revel in the tartness that rhubarb embodies.  This is the word of rhubarb.


For the pie crust:  

Lately I've gone back to basics with pie crust (for a while I was using the Cooks Illustrated recipe that uses vodka--but the honeymoon is over with that one--it's just too soft to deal with).  So, I've been using a real basic crust which I found on Saveur that has step by step instructions with pictures. You can use any pie crust recipe you wish but just make sure it is enough for what would be a top and bottom crust for a single 9" pie. 

For the filling:

1lb rhubarb stalks with the ends trimmed and cut into half inch slices
3/4c (150g) granulated sugar
2tbsp corn starch
1tsp lemon extract
pinch of salt

-Place the rhubarb, sugar and corn starch into a large bowl and toss it all together until the rhubarb is well coated
-Place the mixture in a medium saucepan and place on the stove over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, covered.  Then remove the cover and cook for another 10-15 minutes on medium heat until it is thick enough so that you can take a spoon and run it along the bottom of the pan and a trench quickly forms and then disappears.
-Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon extract and the salt
-Let cool completely.  Also--courtesy of a tip from Deb at Smitten Kitchen because it is quicker--you can spread the mixture on a plate and place in the freezer until it is cool enough.  It will thicken more as it cools.

To assemble:

1 large egg
1tbsp water
coarse sugar or a cinnamon/sugar mixture (which is what I used) for sprinkling on top

-Preheat the oven to 400 F
-Roll out your chilled pie dough--1 disc at a time--on a well-floured surface--to somewhere between a 1/8-1/4" thick
-Using a pastry cutter or a pizza cutter, cut 3x3 inch squares.  You could also probably use a 3" diameter biscuit or cookie cutter as well.  I got somewhere between 15-18 (I made these a week ago so I can't remember now..) hand pies total out of this dough.
-Once you've matched up your squares with a top and a bottom, in a small bowl whisk the egg and water together well and using a pastry brush, brush the bottom of each hand pie with the egg wash
-Spoon about a teaspoon of the mixture (maybe a tiny bit more--my one criticism is that they could have had just a tad more filling) on each of the bottom squares.
-Place the top square over the bottom with the filling and lightly press the edges to seal
-Brush the top square with the egg wash and sprinkle the course sugar on top
-Place pies on a parchment paper or silicon lined baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown 
-Remove from the oven and cool or eat warm

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


I can't express the joys of making puff pastry and having it turn out perfect.  I can't express them because I've never had it happen to me.  But at the same time I've only made it twice in my life.  It's fun actually--time consuming--but fun.  Anyway, the two times I have tried it, I did with two different recipes.  The most recent, which pertains to this post, was from my Bouchon Bakery cookbook.  

As a side note, I am really enjoying this cookbook.  It's photos are pristine and mouth-watering and the recipes that I have made have not disappointed in the least bit.  That said, many of the things that I have made take time.  Like I really need to read the whole recipe before I decide to make it so that I know if I can get it done that day or two days later.  There's a lot of thought and care that goes into making these recipes.  As a side side note, I knew--from my past experience--that making puff pastry does take time but the recipe from this book takes even more time.  There's a lot chilling and resting going on.  And I had a bit of trouble this time around and I think it had a lot to do with the one thing you can't let happen when you are making puff pastry:  The butter began to melt.  

Yes, and it's not as though my apartment was super hot too.  I blame it partly on the butter that I used.  I used what I understood to be--and still believe is--a good quality European style butter (Kerrygold).  But the thing with this butter is that it just seems too soft and it melts faster than a crappier butter.  I think I used a lesser quality butter last time--although truth be told I can't recall for sure.  I just know that I didn't have a butter melting problem last time.  So anyway, every time I began taking the dough out to roll and fold, a little bit of butter would melt and smear into the dough.  I felt helpless.  Sad.  Mad.  Not glad.  Yet I trudged along hoping for the best and realizing I wouldn't find out the true damage until I made something with the dough.  

That was the other small predicament I found myself in.  It's one project just to make the puff pastry.  It's another to figure out what to do with it once you've got it.  So again I turned to the laborious yet beautiful Bouchon Bakery cookbook and decided on the Mille-feuille a.k.a. Napoleon.  

It's really a brilliant concoction this Mille-feuille.  It's so rich.  It has four layers of puff pastry sandwiching three layers of mousseline cream topped with whipped cream.  Damn.  Right?  And that mousseline cream is luxuriant--I could easily eat a bowl of it.  And then some.    

Once you have the puff pastry and the mousseline cream made, it's fairly easy to put together.  You can start by making the cream which is basically vanilla pastry cream and buttercream mixed together.  Then, get the puff pastry ready by rolling it out onto a baking sheet and weighing it down with as much weight as possible so the puff pastry doesn't "puff" up a lot.  Seems kinda wrong right?  Not letting puff pastry puff?  But the purpose is to create really thin sheets of puff pastry that have many many flaky layers squeezed in them.  And generally it worked.  But remember that butter melting problem I mentioned earlier?  Well I found the damage that it caused which is visible in my photographs.  Notice, if you will, the second pastry layer from the right.  It doesn't look flaky.  It looks like a big clump of dough which is basically what it is.  Again, sad.  But, the other layers seem to have turned out great!  So, not that sad.  

Also, something that you'll notice about this particular Mille-feuille is that it is turned on it's side so that the layers are side by side.  Typically they are turned so that the layers are on top of one another like a sandwich.  But not this one.  This one is constructed on it's side per Bouchon Bakery instructions.  I read that it is done this way because the pastry chef felt that with the traditional way you always end up squeezing out the mousseline cream when you pierce through it with a fork or bite down on it.  Although I can see the logic in this, and perhaps it is through my own misdoings in making the pastry, but it's not exactly easy to eat it this way too.  It's a little difficult to cut through the pastry.  It's flaky but not easily destructible and unless you're eating it with a fork and knife the cream still manages to ooze out between the pastry layers.  So, maybe my pastry wasn't tender enough.  I don't know.  Either way this is one really good dessert. 

Recipe ever so slightly adapted from Bouchon Bakery

What you need:

600g puff pastry
375g pastry cream
375g buttercream
300g whipped cream

Pastry Cream

132g egg yolks
1 1/2 tsps of vanilla bean paste or extract
110g granulated sugar
50g all-purpose flour
550g whole milk
27g room temp. butter cut in 1/2" pieces

-Set up an ice bath and place a clean medium bowl in the bath
-Place the egg yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and pour in the vanilla
-Whisk on low speed for about 30 seconds and then slowly add the sugar
-Increase the speed to medium-high and whisk until the yolks have lightened up in color--about 1 1/2 minutes
-Scrape down the bowl
-Turn the mixer back on to medium-high and whisk until it's thickened and even lighter in color
-Reduce the speed to low and add the flour and whisk for another 30 seconds or until fully combined
-With the mixer running, slowly pour in the milk and mix until combined
-Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a large saucepan
-Set pan over medium heat while whisking constantly until the mixture thickens and simmers, very slow bubbles just start to pop at the surface
-Pour the mixture into the bowl that is sitting in the bath and whisk in the butter
-Press a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the pastry cream and set aside to cool/refrigerate until ready to use


75g egg whites
150g + 33g granulated sugar divided
42g water
227g unsalted butter at room temp. and cut into pieces

-Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment
-Place the water and 150g of sugar in a small saucepan and stir until combined
-Bring the sugar/water to simmer over medium-high heat
-When the temperature of the syrup reaches 230 degrees F, turn the mixer on medium speed and gradually pour in the remaining sugar
-Whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks.  If the syrup has not yet reached 248 degrees F and the egg whites have formed soft peaks then turn the mixer to the lowest setting and continue to cook the syrup until it reaches 248 degrees F.
-Once the temperature of the syrup reaches 248, remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour the syrup into the mixer while the mixer is still running at its low setting
-After the syrup is in, increase the speed to high and whisk until the bottom of the bowl is at room temperature and the egg whites have formed stiff peaks
-When the egg whites are cool, put the mixer back on its low setting and start adding the butter one piece at a time--adding the next piece only after the previous one is fully combined within the mixture
-When the buttercream is at the proper consistency, turn off the mixture and set it aside or refrigerate it.

Note:  I didn't end up using all of the butter--I think I had a quarter of it left over when it started coming together.

Whipped Cream

150g heavy cream
5g powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsps vanilla bean paste or extract

Place everything in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk on medium speed until the mixture seems stiff enough to pipe through a pastry bag

Mousseline Cream

Pastry cream

-Place a piece of parchment paper on the bottom of a 9x13 jelly roll pan
-Place the pastry cream in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and whisk until smooth
-Add the buttercream and whisk until fully combined
-Pour the mixture into the jelly roll pan and with an offset spatula smooth and even it out
-Place it in the freezer overnight

For the puff pastry dough

-Roll out the puff pastry to the size of a 12x16 jelly roll pan and trim it to fit in it
-Freeze the dough for an hour
-After an hour preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
-Once the oven is preheated, remove the dough from the freezer and place another piece of parchment paper on top of the dough
-Place the same or as similar as you have sized baking sheet on top of the dough and weigh it down as evenly as possible.  This is to prevent it form puffing up.
-Bake for one hour and ten minutes or until the bottom of the dough is golden brown
-Remove pastry from oven and remove the other baking sheet and any applied weights
-Invert the pastry on another sheet pan, place a piece of parchment paper on top of that and then another sheet pan to continue to weigh it down
-Put it back in the oven for another ten minutes
-After ten minutes, remove the sheet pan that is weighing the pastry down and the piece of parchment paper sitting on top and bake for an additional eight to ten minutes
-Remove from oven and let cool

Note:  When baking the pastry you might want to place another sheet pan or something below the sheet pan holding the dough to catch any butter that might seep out.  I didn't do this and to this day every time I use my oven it smokes from all of the grease sitting at the bottom of it (Yes, I need to clean it)

Putting it all together

-Take the cooled pastry and trim it to a 10x12 rectangle
-Then, cut it lengthwise into 4 strips each 2 1/2 inches wide
-Remove the mousseline cream from the freezer and invert the sheet of cream onto a cutting board
-Cut the mousseline cream to match the size of the strips of pastry
-Once everything is cut to size, lay flat a piece of pastry, then lay a strip of mousseline cream on top of that and continue with another piece of pastry, then cream etc... until you have what you something like you see in my pictures
-After you have everything all sandwiched together, turn the whole thing on its side and with a serrated knife, trim about a half inch off on each end.
-Pipe the whipped cream on top to whatever pattern or design of your choosing--I did the petal thing because that's all I know.  In the Bouchon Bakery book, he does something else which is fancy and nice--beyond my grasp at this stage..

See?  A ton of steps!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Ron de Jesus Reception

I have a friend who is on the board of the Ron de Jesus dance company here in Chicago.  And he recommended me to make some pastries/baked goods for a reception they were having after one of their performances.  So I agreed to do it.  Clearly I love baking so it was a great chance to make stuff I really like to make.  The reception was supposed to host somewhere around 70 people so I decided to make four different items because that seemed right in my head.  David Lebovitz--through his blog--introduced me to chocolate caramel tartlets.  Those were the first things I thought of making for this event.  They are small, easy and richer than a mofo.  Then I thought about eclairs because I've made them before too and I knew I could do it and make a lot of them with some confidence.  Also they are kind of fancy--or look fancy and you have a plethora of flavors that you can add to them.  I had a hard time at first figuring out what kind of eclairs I wanted to make but eventually I decided on two different flavors.

During my trip to Italy last year I came across Crema Pistacchi (a.k.a. pistachio spread).  I had never seen, tasted, or heard of it before but with a tiny sample of it that I got from a vendor selling it out on the street, I realized that I was addicted to it.  It's quite possibly the most wonderful thing you will ever taste--sent down from pistachio heaven.  So obviously I had to have it and thus I bought some--just a tiny 3.8 ounce jar of it.  It was amazing but it's also not cheap. Anyway, on my way back to the U.S. I figured I could just stow it in my carry-on because I wanted it close to me and I didn't want it to break which I was mega paranoid about.  But then I got flagged--or rather it got flagged--at airport security and I was told that either I had to throw it away because it was just over the amount allowed or...

OR...I could go back and re-check my bag that contained the tiny--but not tiny enough to get through security-- jar of  heavenly pistachio spread and go back through security.  I chose the latter.  I chose the latter because I figured I would clearly never come across this stuff again and it was my one and only chance to own this jar of amazingness.  In the end everything worked out and my pistachio spread came home with me unfettered.  I was pleased.  However, very shortly after I came back from Italy, Mario Batali's Eataly opened up in Chicago.  I trekked over there one day and amongst the various eateries that are contained within this mammoth establishment is also a small market.  So as I was perusing the market you'll never guess what I came across...  Yes, yes--jars and jars of Crema Pistacchi!  All small 3 ounce jars but nevertheless I felt like I had struck gold because this stuff is splendid and I had found a local source.  Praise be to Eataly! 

But getting back to my eclairs.  Eataly has other hard-to-find spreads that are all imported from Italy.  Another one that I found was hazelnut spread.  Not chocolate hazelnut spread like Nutella (which FYI they have a whole separate dedicated Nutella bar with all things Nutella) but more similar to the pistachio one and equally good.  So, after remembering all of this while trying to figure out what flavor of eclairs to make it occurred to me that the higher powers at be were easily convincing me to make pistachio and hazelnut flavored eclairs with a chocolate glaze.  It was so clear.  Obvi.  

For the other two desserts I knew I wanted one more fancy thing and then just a simple one because if I had to make four fancy ones for 70 people I might get a little too stressed.  Also, I wanted to make a cake because cake is the best but I didn't think a whole cake would be appropriate at an event like this.  But then I remembered financiers.

Financiers are little almond tea cakes.  They are very easy to make.  I had made chocolate ones before which turned out well but I wanted to make non-chocolate ones this time since I already had other chocolate items on the menu.  My Bouchon Bakery cookbook had a recipe that I wanted to try out.  Traditionally--from what I've read--financiers were made into small rectangular loaves that look kind of like gold bars after they've been baked. The fact that they look like gold bars some how relates to the origin of their name:  financiers ===> gold ===> money...stuff like that I guess.  I didn't investigate the issue much but I learned something, you've learned something so that's nice.  Anyway, you can make them in mini muffin pans too which I had done before but I wanted to make these cool little bars and decorate them with buttercream petals.

I found a place online that's in Philadelphia that sells sheet pans with the molds for them but after ordering one, realizing it was the wrong size, then re-ordering the right sized one and having it delivered overnight I made a visit to Sur la Table and found out that they sell individual molds there that were the same price as the ones I bought online but cheaper with no shipping.  So I bought them too because I was mega paranoid again and feared that my other molds that I had over-nighted wouldn't really be over-nighted and I needed a back-up.  But I was wrong and needless to say I can make a lot of financiers now. 

The last item was a sable cookie.  In general, I think cookies are the easiest things to make.  A sable is just a butter/sugar roll-out cookie.  I found a great recipe on Smitten Kitchen that was a snap to make so I went with it and then pressed some pearl sugar into it.  The one adaptation I did make was the vanilla bean I added.  I read that if you scrape the seeds into the sugar of a recipe and rub it into the sugar crystals all that great vanilla flavor is fully and truly embedded within the sugar.  I guess by rubbing different herbs and spices into the sugar of a recipe it will really enhance the flavor.  More learning.  As cliche as it may sound, this whole process was really a learning experience.

The biggest worry I had with this project was getting everything done on time and with my own approval.  The only way I knew I could make it work was by making one or two components of recipes every night after I got home from work.  I did this for a week before the event.  I ended up freezing a lot of things so that they would stay fresh.  The two things I felt like I could only finish the day of the event were the eclairs and the financiers.  I made the eclair shells and the pastry cream a few days before and froze the shells and refrigerated the pastry cream.  But I felt like if I had filled them a day or two before they would be soggy and gross.  So I waited for that.  Also, the financiers were a bit tricky only because I kept reading that they are really only good the day that they are baked--one source said only within a few hours...  I was silently freaking out about his.  But I tested the recipe a few times before I made them and decided that they tasted fine throughout the whole day.  Also, one thing I read that helped was that the batter can be made beforehand and refrigerated--which apparently also helps to let all of the flavors marinade.  So I made the batter the night before and baked them on the day of the event which worked out well.

As far as sprucing each of the desserts up was concerned, I wanted to keep it simple--mostly.  For the cookies a lot of recipes suggest using "dusting" sugar to coat them.  I found this at a few stores but I also had some pearl sugar sitting unopened in my cabinets for months--saving it for a recipe that I have yet to make.  So I decided to just use that.  For the eclairs, I had mixed the respective nut spreads into the pastry cream but figured I needed some sort of identifier outside of the pastry cream. This came in the form of the respective nut (hazelnut and pistachio)-- in a crushed form sprinkled over the chocolate glaze-- that each eclair housed within its doughy interior.

I actually wanted to dye some modeling white chocolate a pistachio color and a hazelnut color and overlay some fancy design on each eclair but I didn't have the time..  Nonetheless, I think they looked good.  The chocolate caramel tartlets were easy with just sprinkling some fleur de sel atop.  With the financiers--often people will just sprinkle some powdered sugar on them or set some fruit within the batter which I'm sure is delicious but I love cake and buttercream frosting so I wanted to pipe some butterceam on them--specifically a Biscoff flavored French buttercream.  I also had a clear vision of using that petal technique that I've used before--perhaps over-used. It just seemed right...

Everything turned out well.  I write that with a good amount of surety. The woman that I was coordinating with for the event sent me a nice message the day after it and said that everything went well and the desserts were a big hit.  So that was nice to know.

I'm not sure what I would do differently next time.  Aside from some kinks I thought I was pretty organized and prepared.  I do think that working in a kitchen for hours on end it a tough job--I don't know that I could do that on a daily basis because I'm exhausted from  my measly one week stint--grant it I was working my full time gig simultaneously. But still, I think baking professionally isn't an easy way to make a living.  I love cake.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Coffee Crunch Cake

I have a giant list of things I want to make and it grows daily.  It sits in my e-mail inbox and on post-it notes pasted to a little notebook I keep alongside my recipe books. 

But this past weekend I had the hardest time trying to pick out something I felt like making from that list.  I had zero motivation to make any of it for some reason.  So again I turned to one of my cookbooks which saved me.  And my savior came in the form of a cake--a rolled cake to be precise.  It called out to me.  It said, "make me bitch."  And I complied.

I haven't made a ton of rolled cakes.  I am a little afraid of them because they can crack when you roll them--and I've had that happen to me.  And for someone who can be anal-retentive about his baked goods not turning out just so--it's a painful experience.

I've been known to throw them out in a fit of rage...  Well, maybe not rage, but extreme irritability.  However my new Vintage Cakes cookbook has a whole chapter dedicated to rolled cakes and I've made two of them so far.  The first was a vertically rolled cake.  I know, vertically rolled!!!??? What the F is that?   Well, think...tornado.

Inevitably I'll make it again and post--it was good.  It had alcohol in it.  And the second is documented above and below.  Both have come out close to perfect in that they haven't cracked when I rolled them.  Hooray...

Actually, not only did this one not crack, it was really easy to work with and really soft--like really soft.  All of these rolled cakes in this cookbook seem soft and light--that's the simplest way to describe them.  The one contrasting element was the "coffee crunch" which was basically just coffee candy.  It was easy to make but I think it was too much--like the amount.  You could probably do with half of it or three quarters.  But it really did provide a nice "crunch" which I guess was the point.  The filling was coffee flavored whipped cream--again another light touch...  Overall the cake was superb--

Recipe slightly adapted from Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson:

Crunch Topping

-2tsp baking soda
-1tbsp finely ground coffee beans (I didn't have any so I cracked open one of my K-cups and scooped out the ground coffee--seemed to work just fine)
-1 1/2c granulated sugar (10 1/2oz)
-1/4c light corn syrup
-1/4c dark coffee


-1c sifted cake flour (4oz)
-1tsp baking powder
-1/2tsp fine sea salt 
-1c granulated sugar (7oz)
-1/3c canola oil
-4 egg yolks at room temp.
-1/3c water
-1tsp vanilla extract
-6 egg whites at room temp.
-1/4 tsp cream of tartar


-1tbsp instant espresso (I used Sanka)
-2c heavy cream
-1/3c granulated sugar (2 1/2oz)
2 tbsps Kahlua or 2tsp of vanilla extract

For the crunch:

-Oil a large baking sheet very well and set it next to the stove.  
-Sift the baking soda and ground coffee together in a small bowl and set that near the stove as well
-In a medium, as tall as you have, heavy bottomed sauce pan mix the sugar, corn syrup and coffee and set over medium heat stirring often until the sugar dissolves
-Stop stirring and heat until the temperature reaches 290 F.  As the temperature gets closer to 275 F, give the pan a swirl to evenly distribute the mixture and to prevent any burning
-When the temperature reaches 290, remove from the heat and stir in the coffee/baking soda mixture.  It will foam up a lot but keep stirring until it is fully incorporated
-Once the ground coffee/baking soda is fully incorporated pour the mixture into the greased baking sheet but do not spread it out--let is set on its own
-Let the coffee crunch cool completely--about an hour--and then use a rolling pin or a hammer and break it up into tiny pieces and set it aside

For the cake:

-Grease a 12x16 inch jelly roll pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper and then grease the parchment paper as well
-Center an oven rack and preheat the oven to 325 F
-In a large bowl sift and thoroughly whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and 3/4 of the sugar
-In a small bowl whisk together the egg yolks, oil, water and vanilla
-Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until the they are just fully combined--don't over-mix
-Next, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk whip the egg whites on medium speed until frothy
-Add the cream of tartar and increase the speed to high 
-Once soft peaks have formed decrease the speed to medium and slowly and steadily add the remaining 1/4c of sugar
-Increase the speed back to high and whip until firm shiny peaks have formed
-Then fold about 1/3 of the egg whites into the cake batter until no more white streaks are visible
-Fold in the remaining egg whites gently until evenly combined and there aren't any white streaks
-Pour the batter in the jelly roll pan and smooth it out
-Bake for 16-18 minutes until the cake springs back when touched lightly
-Remove from the oven and let cool completely

Make the filling:

-Whisk the espresso powder (Sanka in my case) and 1/2c of the heavy cream together in a small bowl
-In a cold bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the remaining heavy cream and the espresso/cream mixture on medium-low gradually turning up to high
-When it looks like the whisk is leaving tracks into the whipped cream add the sugar in a steady stream while the mixer is still running
-Mix until soft peaks form and then add the Kahlua or vanilla and mix until just combined

For assembling the cake:

-Spread half of the filling on the cake leaving about 1/4" along the edges free of any whipped cream
-With the short side of the cake facing you, use the parchment paper that the cake is laying atop and slowly and carefully roll the cake away from you forming a roll
-Once rolled, lay the cake with the seam side down on whatever cake plate you are going to use
-Trim the ends
-Spread the rest of the filling on top of the cake and on the sides
-Finally, if you are going to serve the cake soon, spread the coffee crunch all over the cake.  If not, don't spread the coffee crunch over the cake because according to the cookbook the moisture from the whipped cream with make the coffee crunch chewy after a few hours.  Thus lightly wrap the cake in the plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve--then sprinkle it with coffee crunch.