Thursday, November 19, 2015

Salted Caramel Chocolates

I think I mentioned this in a post a while ago...but I can't remember when actually. Nevertheless, a few years ago I took a chocolate-making class via some Groupon.  It was eye-opening to say the least.  I mean, my eyes didn't just open but they bulged at the sight of the machine in the back kitchen that spewed out a thick stream of melted chocolate.  If I could have just positioned my open mouth below that fountain of chocolate...

Aside from that godsend of a machine, our rather intense teacher exposed me to the process of tempering chocolate--which was honestly eye-opening.  He spoke about the crystalline structures in chocolate and specifically those very important beta crystals that one must get into alignment at just the right temperature--via tempering the chocolate--in order for the finished chocolate product to have that gorgeous sheen on the outside and a crisp hard crack when broken.  Unfortunately, attaining those two key characteristics has always been a challenge for me.

Now, there are a few different ways to temper chocolate.  In the class, we did--what I would term--the "messy" way.  We poured the un-tempered melted chocolate onto a marble slab, took a bench scraper and kept scooping and scraping up the chocolate back and forth onto the slab until our teacher gave it a quick look and told us to test it--and knowing what I know now, I have no idea how he would know without using a thermometer. I guess with experience you just come to know? Anyway, by testing it we took a small amount of the chocolate we had been working with and put it in the freezer to harden.  If it was shiny and had a snap when broken, it was tempered. If not, we had to keep agitating it and testing it.  The other--less messy--way is seeding.  With seeding, you basically do all of the tempering in a bowl. And since temperature plays such a vital indicator of whether or not chocolate has been tempered--and I like being as exact as possible--I use a thermometer to help me determine how close I am to forming those famed beta crystals.  Alas, even with my handy thermometer I can never seem to get a perfectly tempered chocolate.  There's always streaks.  Blah.

So, when I read an article on Serious Eats proclaiming that there is another way to achieve a perfect tempered chocolate that wasn't messy or labor intensive (i.e. stirring and agitating the chocolate until your arm feels like falling off), I was intrigued.  Especially since it involved the use of a sous vide.   The beauty with using a sous vide to temper chocolate is that--again since temperature plays such an important role--you can adjust the temperature fairly easily and hold that temperature.  And once you've achieved the tempered state, you should be able to hold it in that state--provided you keep agitating the chocolate every once in a while.

I actually didn't have a sous vide at the time I read this article and the only thing I knew about them was that they were used to cook meat.  Hence, the idea of one being used to temper chocolate was alluring.  So alluring that I ended up buying a sous vide.  And I've had it for about a year now and have used it fairly often--but to cook pork tenderloins, pork chops and chicken.  But not to temper chocolate.  I know, I know.  The reason that sold me on buying it was the idea that I could temper chocolate perfectly.  However, I think part of me was a little hesitant to try it out because I was afraid it wouldn't work and then I'd have to go back to the seeding method--which I can't seem to get right--and then tempering chocolate would just be another one of those things that is eating away at my soul because I can never make it work.  Woe is me. Well, not really.  Because the sous vide method actually worked pretty darn well.  Is it perfect?  No. But I did get a good shine and fairly good snap. There were some small disfigurements and the snap wasn't as crisp as I think it should have been. But maybe next time if I try pulling the chocolate out of the sous vide and agitating it more often I'll get those beta crystals in line a bit better.  In any case, I was pleased with the results.  At the same time, it's still another method  that needs practice.  And I don't think--as much as I dislike it--I will completely give up on the seeding method.  It needs some practice too.  But if you have a sous vide and you have trouble tempering chocolate via traditional methods then give this a shot because it really does work quite nicely.

Recipe for 12 - 2 inch diameter hemispheres (For a great tutorial on how to temper chocolate in a sous vide, visit Serious Eats)

16oz of dark chocolate (I used Callebaut semi-sweet) chopped
1/2c salted caramel sauce (recipe follows for about 1 cup of sauce)

Salted caramel sauce

1/2c heavy cream
2 1/2 T unsalted butter
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
3/4c granulated sugar
2 T light corn syrup
2 T water

First, using a small sauce pan, combine the cream, butter and salt.  Heat the the mixture over low heat while stirring until the butter has melted and the salt has dissolved.  Once that's been accomplished, remove the pan from the heat, stir in the vanilla and set nearby.  In a medium heavy bottom sauce pan, combine the sugar, corn syrup and water.  Heat that mixture over medium-high heat.  Let it boil up--bubbles will ebb and flow--just let it go until it starts changing color.  Once it starts changing color, slowly swirl the pan around to distribute the heat evenly.  After it gets to a good even amber color and the bubbles are much smaller, reduce the heat to low and carefully pour in the cream mixture while whisking constantly.  Remove the caramel sauce from the heat and let it cool completely before use.

For Assembly

Temper your chocolate in whatever manner you have at your disposal.  Once tempered, pour about half of the chocolate into the mold to line the insides of the hemispheres with it.  Turn the molds upside down and tap out any excess chocolate--make sure that the surfce of each hemisphere is completely covered in chocolate.  Place the chocolate mold aside to set.  After it's set, fill the chocolate lined hemispheres with your completely cooled caramel sauce--I put about a tablespoon in for these particular molds.  Then, pour the other half of your tempered chocolate over the caramel to fill the rest of the molds.  Use a bench scraper to scrape evenly along the surface of the mold to remove any excess chocolate and to ensure that each chocolate has a nice flat even bottom. Set the chocolates aside to set/harden.  Once they have set, turn the mold over carefully and tap out the chocolates. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Red Wine Poached Pear Tarts

This is such a simple dessert.  Puff pastry and fruit.  That's it.

Of course you can dress it up a bit in any number of ways.  But if you didn't, the buttery flaky puff pastry and sweet ripe fruit would hardly be a disappointment in itself.  On the other hand, there's certainly no harm in sprucing it up.

Like maybe you can poach some pears in a sweet red wine syrup and let them marinade in the red wine syrup for a few days in the refrigerator.

Then cut some squares of puff pastry out, slice up the poached pears and place them on top of the pastry and bake them.  It's still pretty uncomplicated--assuming you have some readily available puff pastry.

I like that it's not too sweet either.  Buttery? You betcha.  But not that sweet because the sweetness really just comes from the fruit and the syrup that the pears are poached in.

I might even go as far as designating this is a healthy dessert.  But I won't.  Because it's really not healthy--I mean there's a lot of butter in that puff pastry.  So it's not healthy--but it's damn good.


2-2 1/2 pounds puff pastry dough
4 medium red wine poached pears (recipe follows)
1/4c of granulated sugar
1 egg and 1 tsp of water for the egg wash

For the red wine poached pears:

2 1//2c dry red wine--I used a cabernet
1/4c granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
pinch of cloves
4 firm medium pears peeled--ripe but still fairly firm

Using a 3 quart saucepan, combine the wine, sugar, cinnamon stick and cloves.  Place the saucepan on the stove and bring the mixture to a boil over medium high heat.  Once it has come to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and gently add the pears.  Cook the pears for 15-20 minutes in the simmering liquid--turning the pears every so often so that each pear is evenly cooked and colored by the red wine poaching liquid.  Make sure not to overcook the pears so that they are still firm once they are evenly colored.  If at any point they seem to be getting mushy, remove the pears and poaching liquid from the heat.  In any case, once they are fully cooked, remove the saucepan from the heat, place the pears so that they are sitting upright in the pan and let them cook completely.  After the pears have cooled, place them and all of the poaching liquid in an airtight container, cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 3-4 days.

When the pears have sat in the poaching liquid for at least 24 hours, get ready to bake the tarts.  First, line two large baking sheets with either silicone baking mats or parchment paper and set them aside. Then, on a well floured surface roll out the puff pastry into at least an 8 inch wide by 16 inch long by 1/8 inch thick rectangle.  Cut eight 4 inch by 4 inch rectangles out of the larger rectangle and place four of them on one baking sheet and the other four on the other baking sheet.  Cover the baking sheets with plastic wrap and place them in the refrigerator while you get the pears ready.  Next, slice each pear into 1/8 inch thick slices--discarding any of the core pieces.  Once that's done place oven racks in the lower and upper third sections of your oven and preheat it to 450 F.  Remove the baking sheets from the refrigerator, distribute the pear slices evenly between the eight pastry squares and arrange them in any way you prefer.  After the pears slices have been arranged, sprinkle the sugar over each tart.  Then, in a small bowl whisk together the egg and water.  Using a pastry brush, brush the tops of the exposed pastry that borders the fruit--not the sides of it.  Finally, place one baking sheet in the upper and one in the lower rack.  Bake them for 20 minutes at 450 F switching the two baking sheets between the two racks after the first 10 minutes.  After the first 20 minutes of baking, decrease the oven temperature to 400 F, switch the baking sheets again between the two racks and bake them for another 20 minutes switching the baking sheets between the two racks one more time halfway through the second 20 minute period.  Confused?  Well, just switch up the baking sheets every once in a while to ensure that they bake evenly since they are on separate oven racks.  Anyway, after a total cooking time of 40 minutes remove the baking sheets from the oven and let them cool completely.  Enjoy.

Monday, October 26, 2015

English Muffins

I was discussing with a friend our mutual affinity towards English muffins.  We both admitted that we like them better than bagels.  Personally, I like them because they are generally a little less substantial and offer up a bunch of nooks and crannies for your butter to melt into.  That's pretty amazing. 

Plus, the dough for them is a little spongier which lends the butter another way to get soaked up even when it isn't falling into some crevice along the surface.  That's just the magic of an English muffin I guess.

So I went about trying to make them.  I used the recipe from Bouchon Bakery which was different than most recipes I found online.  The biggest difference was that these were baked in the oven versus cooked over a skillet.

Also, I had to use a starter which meant I had to make a starter--which meant I couldn't actually make the muffins for at least a week more--which was kind of a drag. Nevertheless, I made the starter and eventually set to task.

The thing with baking them versus frying them over a skillet is that they tend to look more like actual muffins in that they had a stump and a muffin top.  I've never seen an English muffin look like that and the recipe didn't mention it.

So I assumed I made a misstep at some point.  What I did was place each portion of dough into a three inch pastry ring to proof.  And--yay--they proved really well but were rising out of the pastry rings in a mega way.

So I tried to contain them within the confines of the rings--i.e. getting rid of the muffin top--which concluded in me deflating them a little. It kind of worked but I think that may have stunted the formation of all of those nooks and crannies we are so used to seeing in a normal English muffin.

On the flip side, they were still light and the texture seemed spot on.  That said, overall it was a good recipe but I think that I might try and cook them on the stovetop next time just for kicks.

Recipe via Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller

274g all-purpose flour
25g granulated sugar
11g instant yeast
1/2 tsp sea salt
247g of your favorite starter
274g whole milk warmed to 75 F
22g vegetable oil
22g coarse corn meal

First, set a baking stone on the middle rack of your oven and then preheat your oven to 425 F.  Next, in the bowl of a stand mixer combine the flour, sugar, yeast and salt.  Using the paddle attachment mix the dry ingredients on low until they are evenly distributed.  Then add the starter and mix on low speed for 2 minutes.  After that 2 minutes is up, slowly add the milk and the oil to the bowl while the mixer is still running for another 2 minutes or just until everything is fully moistened and the mixture is smooth.  Stop the mixer, scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl and then mix on medium speed for 2 more minutes.  Then, cover the bowl and let the dough rise for an hour at room temperature.

Once the hour is up,  get your molds ready.  I didn't have the suggested molds referenced in the cookbook (Flexipan cylinder molds from JB Prince) so I used eight 3 1/4 inch pastry rings.  I greased the insides of them and placed them on top of a silicone lined baking sheet.  Then I sprinkled the corn meal on the bottom of each pastry ring.  Next I divided the dough evenly between each pastry ring, covered it with a tea towel and let it proof for about a half hour.  After they proved really really well, I tried to push the dough that was flowing outside of the edges back into the safe confines of the pastry rings--which may have been a mistake...  Anyway, once you think the muffins have proved enough, smooth the tops out with a wet finger if you like.  Get a water bottle ready and then place the baking sheet on the baking stone in the hot oven, quickly spray water in the oven and close the door fast.  Bake the muffins for 20-25 minutes or until they are golden brown.  Remove the freshly baked muffins from the oven and let them cool.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

If I had to choose one savory food to live with for the rest of my life it would probably be pizza. And it could be any type of pizza--I mean I do have my favorites but I wouldn't necessarily pass up a slice of thin, pan or deep dish either.  If I could accompany that pizza with a dessert, then I'd likely choose chocolate chip cookies.  

Similar to pizza, I love all types of chocolate chip cookies.  I like them big, small, crunchy, chewy, gooey or some variation/combination of any of those.  So when I see a new recipe claiming to be "the best chocolate chip cookie recipe," I'm sold.  Regardless if it is actually the best, it's a pretty sure bet that I'm gonna like it.  However, this particular cookie recipe wasn't claiming to be the best chocolate chip cookie recipe.  But, it was voted the King Arthur's 2015 best recipe of the year.  You read that, right???  The recipe of the year.  

That means--as far as I can tell--that out of ALL of the recipes King Arthur came up with, a chocolate chip cookie recipe seized the day and came out as number one.  Naturally, I decided to give the recipe a try.  And I'm glad I did. Not only did the recipe make like 20 giant-sized cookies, they were all titillating to my taste buds.

As the title indicates they weren't just chocolate chip cookies, they were chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. But they weren't oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  By that I mean that they were chocolate chip cookies with some oatmeal in them.  They weren't oatmeal cookies with some chocolate chips in them.  See the distinction?  Good.

Now, these were the crispy on the edges and chewy in the middle type of cookie.  They also had a ton of chocolate in them.  The original recipe called for chocolate chips but I had these chocolate discs on hand--which I purchased in bulk from our local chocolate factory--so I used them--which I must confess was a superb choice because it created giant pools of chocolate instead of dispersed puddles throughout the cookie.

Another thing about these cookies that I really feel contributed to their unique character was the vanilla.  The recipe called for a full tablespoon of vanilla extract.  That's kind of a lot compared to most tried and true chocolate chip cookie recipes--they usually have a teaspoon at most.  And that teaspoon provides a hint of vanilla. This tablespoon made the vanilla loud and proud.  Well not loud. But it was definitely present and I liked that.

Although it did make me wonder if the vanilla was what made the cookie so great.  Like if I added a tablespoon of vanilla extract to any chocolate chip cookie recipe, would it stand out?  Then I thought about it some more and decided that no, that wouldn't necessarily happen.  And the vanilla certainly contributed to the greatness of these cookies but there were definitely other factors at play. I think that the amount of chocolate in them didn't hurt and the oatmeal gave it a bit more texture and crunch--which was a big plus.

I will concede that my opinion may not be so unbiased since I did readily admit that I've never met a chocolate chip cookie I didn't like.  But....nevertheless all in all, a well developed recipe worthy of its title.

Recipe via King Arthur found here

227g unsalted butter at room temp.
213g light brown sugar
99g granulated sugar
1 large egg at room temp.
1 large egg yolk at room temp.
1 T vanilla extract
241g all-purpose flour
99g old fashioned oats
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
510g chocolate chips, discs or chunks

First, line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats and set them aside.  Then preheat the oven to 325 F.  Next, combine the flour, oats, baking powder, soda and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.  After that, using the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment cream the butter and sugars together until smooth--I did it for about 3 minutes on medium-high speed.  Then, stop the mixer, scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl and add the eggs one at a time--mixing well between each addition.  Then add the vanilla and mix just until combined.  Now add the dry ingredients all at once and mix on low speed just until the they've been fully incorporated.  Finally throw in the chocolate and mix on low speed just until it has been dispersed as evenly as you wish throughout the cookie batter.  And now measure out about 1/4 cup full of batter and drop them onto the baking sheets leaving at least two inches around each lump of batter.  Bake the cookies for about 15-16 minutes.  Once they're done, remove them from oven and let them cool for about 8-10 minutes on the pan before removing them.  Eat. Love. Pray. Gay.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Banana Layer Cake

After making several of Christina Tosi's signature creations, you'd think I'd already be prepared for what's in store and thus my jaw wouldn't drop while reading through one of her recipes.  But with this one, my jaw still dropped a bit.  There's a lot of background work that I needed to do before I could even crack an egg for the actual cake.  I don't want to give the wrong impression with how I feel about her desserts because the truth is that I have never been disappointed after first bite--and every subsequent bite for that matter.  They're astoundingly delicious.  The ingredients and flavors she's crafted just work so well.

Yes, I had to make my own feuilletine and hazelnut paste--they're those types of ingredients I imagine are only readily available in Paris--or on Amazon.  And then I had to use those ingredients to make like, a bazillion other components for the cake.  But, these desserts are a project and--in case it's not fairly evident from the subject matter on my blog--I love baking so it's not exactly a chore to have to do all of this sort of logistical work.

Plus, it's pretty easy to make your own feuilletine--and I think it's good baking experience, or--if you will--builds strong baking character. Plus, maybe you'll save a few bucks making your own.  And if you don't like doing any of that, then pretty much any ingredient is just a mouse click away.

Now the flavor of the cake is not just banana--it's extra banana.  Not only do you get the banana flavor from the actual bananas but there's an extra boost from some banana extract. And unbeknownst to myself--previous to this endeavour that is--banana extract is readily available in most supermarkets!  So that was actually an easy ingredient to retrieve.  The banana cream obviously has some excellent banana-rama kick and is as good as any banana cream you'll find in your favorite banana cream pie.

What I like so much about Christina Tosi's cakes is that--as I mentioned earlier--the ingredients really are well crafted together.  Like there's just a perfect amount of banana cream and chocolate ganache sandwiched between the cake layers.  And the "crunch" she refers to has some salt in it that offsets the sweet quite nicely.  There's different texture and taste in the cakes that seems almost perfectly balanced.

I did have a tiny issue though.  And of course it had to do with the fact that--I'm almost positive anyway--I made some of my own ingredients.  Specifically, the hazelnut paste.  I found a recipe for hazelnut paste and making it wasn't a problem.  I thought it came out right because it had the same sort of consistency that the store-bought almond paste has--pretty thick and not easily spreadable. But whatever the case, I don't think it worked too well with the last component I needed for the cake which was the hazelnut frosting.

The frosting base is just powdered sugar and butter and then essentially you just mix in the paste. But because the paste I made was more viscous than anything, it didn't form a very spreadable frosting. So, whatever Christina Tosi uses--and she actually does list her specific make and model of ingredients in the front of her book--must be a different type of paste than what I made.  In retrospect, I probably could have added more butter to make it more spreadable and that may have done the trick.  Nonetheless, I worked with what I had and in the end, I don't think it made a negative impact on the finished product.

I often think how Christina Tosi's cakes are like super-sized french entremets.  You know, those little artsy cakes that have lots of different layers and textures?  In that same sort of way, this three layer six inch cake may look simple--maybe because it's not ornately frosted or topped with some slick looking fondant--but that's just a deception.  And I can attest to that because it took me over a week to get this thing together--albeit I was working full time too.  Nevertheless, if you venture to make one of the famed Milk Bar's cakes, beware it's not something you can necessarily whip up so quickly. At the same time, after all is said and done, I'd bet money that you will not be disappointed.


Components needed for the cake

Banana cake
55g (1/4c) milk
Chocolate hazelnut ganache
1/2 recipe of hazelnut crunch (you can just divide the recipe in half now if you don't want to make all of it)
1/2 recipe of banana cream (you can just divide the recipe in half now if you don't want to make all of it)
Hazelnut frosting

Banana cake

85g (6 T) unsalted butter at room temp.
200g (1c) granulated sugar
1 large egg
110g (1/2c) buttermilk
20g (grapeseed oil)
2g (1/2 tsp) banana extract
225g or 2 very ripe bananas
225g (1 1/3c) all purpose flour
3g (3/4 tsp) baking powder
3g (1/2 tsp) baking soda
2g (1/2 tsp) kosher salt

First, grease a quarter sheet pan and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.  Then, preheat the oven to 325 F.  Next, in a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, soda and salt and then set it aside.  And then using a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil and banana extract and set that aside.  Now, in the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy on medium-high speed--about 2-3 minutes.  Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and add the egg and beat for another 2-3 minutes.  Scrape down the bowl again, turn the mixer down to its lowest speed and slowly stream in the buttermilk-oil-banana extract mixture.  Then turn the mixer up to medium-high speed and beat for another 5-6 minutes or until the mixture has doubled in size and all the ingredients are fully combined and look cohesive.  Turn the mixture down to its lowest speed again and add the bananas and mix just until they have broken up and are evenly distributed within the batter.  Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix just until combined.  Pour the batter in the prepared pan and spread it evenly.  Bake the cake for about 25 minutes or until it's fully set.  Remove the cake from the oven, and let cool before removing it from the pan.

Chocolate hazelnut ganache

55g (1/4c) heavy cream
60g (2oz) gianduja chocolate chopped (I used this)
65g (1/4c) hazelnut paste (I made mine from this recipe)
38g (3 T) fudge sauce
1/2 tsp kosher salt

In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients except for the cream.  Then, using a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream until it comes to a boil.  Next pour the cream over the rest of the ingredients and let it set for about a minute.  Then, lightly whisk until the mixture is fully homogeneous.  Store the ganache in an air tight container until ready to use.

Hazelnut crunch

110g (1/3c) hazelnut paste
80g (1/2c) hazelnut brittle
80g (1c) feuilletine (I used this recipe to make mine)
20g (2 T) confectioners sugar
3/4 tsp kosher salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, combine all of the ingredients until everything is evenly distributed.  Store the crunch in an airtight container until ready for use.

Banana cream

225g or 2 ripe bananas
75g (1/3c) heavy cream
55g (1/4) milk
100g (1/2c) granulated sugar
25g (2 T) corn starch
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3 large egg yolks
2 gelatin sheets
40g (3 T) butter
1/2 tsp yellow food coloring
160g heavy cream
160g confectioners sugar

Using either a blender or food processor, puree the bananas, cream and milk until smooth.  Then add the sugar, corn starch, salt and eggs yolks and mix until fully incorporated.  Now, pour that mixture into a medium heavy bottomed saucepan.  Clean the food processor or blender.  After that, bloom the gelatin in cold water.  Heat the mixture in the saucepan over medium heat whisking constantly until it starts to bubble and thicken.  Once it starts to bubble let it boil for 2 minutes whisking constantly. Then pour the mixture back into the blender or food processor, add the bloomed gelatin (remember to wring out the excess water from the gelatin before adding it to the banana cream), butter and food coloring and blend until fully combined.  Pour the mixture into a heat safe bowl and chill in the refrigerator until completely cooled.  Once the banana cream is chilled, pour the remaining heavy cream and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Using the whisk attachment, whisk until medium stiff peaks have formed.  Stop the mixer, add the cold banana cream and whisk slowly until fully combined. Store the banana cream in an air-tight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Hazelnut frosting

25g (2 T) unsalted butter at room temp.
65g (1/4c) hazelnut paste
20g (2 T) confectioners sugar
1/8 tsp kosher salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter using the paddle attachment.  Add the rest of the ingredients and beat until fully smooth and fluffy.  Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator until ready to use BUT bring to room temperature before using.

To assemble the cake

You'll need a six inch cake ring for the assembly.  First, invert the-cooled banana cake (I find that having the cake cold or even partially frozen helps with this part) onto either a silpat or a piece of parchment paper.  Using the cake ring, cut out two circles.  Clean your cake ring. Then, place the cake ring on a silpat or parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Line the inside of the cake ring with either an acetate strip that's 9-12 inches wide or--if you're like me and don't have acetate strips on hand--you can use parchment paper to do this--grant it, it's not as sturdy as the acetate but it gets the job done just fine.  For the parchment paper, just cut out a piece that will line the inside circumference of the cake ring and that is about 9-12 inches wide.  Now, place 55g or 1/4 cup of milk in small bowl and set it next to your work space.  Take the cake scraps (everything leftover from the two circles you cut out) and using your fist or some other tool you deem workable, gently mash them into an even layer at the bottom of the cake ring.  This will be your bottom layer.  Now get your milk. Using a pastry brush, brush about half of the milk onto the mashed up cake scraps at the bottom of the ring.  Then, using the back of a smallish spoon, spread half of the ganache over the cake in an even layer.  Next, spread 1/3 of the hazelnut crunch over the ganache. After that, using the back of a smallish spoon, spread half of the banana cream over the crunch as evenly as possible.  This completes the first layer.  For the second layer, place one of the cake circles you cut out over the banana cream.  And then repeat everything you did for the first layer starting with brushing the top of the cake with the remainder of the milk--spread the rest of the ganache over it, then 1/3 of the crunch and finally the remainder of the banana cream.  Your second layer is now complete.  To finish, place the remaining cake layer over the banana cream.  Spread the hazelnut frosting over the top of the cake and then sprinkle the remaining crunch over the frosting.  After that, place the cake in the freezer to set for at least 12 hours.  The day you're ready to eat the cake, take it out of the freezer, and using your thumbs pop it out of the cake ring (pushing it out from the bottom), place it on your cake platter, remove the parchment paper and let it defrost for at least 3 hours.  Then eat.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Basil Ice Cream

I may have mentioned this before.  I probably shouldn't have.  I'm actually reluctant to mention it at all because it's something that I believe sets me apart from pretty much everyone else in the whole wide world--and not in a good way. The thing is, I'm not the biggest fan of ice cream....  I like it ok.  I remember once a while back I was chatting with an acquaintance of mine and he had just moved to the neighborhood I live in.  He told me he discovered this place, George's, and I happily added that I knew all about George's because they have the best chocolate fudge cake. He laughed at me because he found it odd that I mentioned a cake instead of the gallons and gallons of ice creams they have on display sitting below a menu that lists a plethora of different flavors as well as sundaes.

In short, George's is really more of an ice cream destination for most people--although they do have quite a selection of other types of non-frozen desserts--including that delectable chocolate fudge cake I adore/prefer over all of those aforementioned ice cream flavors. Don't get me wrong, I think ice cream is good.  But I'd much rather have a brownie or piece of cake over it.  At the same time, my lack of enthusiasm for ice cream doesn't prevent me from wanting to make it.  I mean I do have my own ice cream maker and truth be told, over the years I've made quite a bit of it.  But I think it's more the novelty of it--homemade ice cream is a little more rare than cake or brownies.  And as boring as it may be, vanilla ice cream is probably my favorite flavor.  It's also the most basic and simplest ice cream flavor to make--so I make it more than any other flavor.  Plus, it pairs so well with everything--especially chocolate cake and brownies...  Nevertheless, on occasion I like to expand my horizons and try something a lil different.  And since it's summer and I have an abundance of basil growing on my balcony, I knew that when I came across a recipe for basil ice cream I had to give it a shot.

The closest thing that basil ice cream tastes like is green tea ice cream.  Not surprisingly, it does taste basily--but not overwhelmingly so.  And I can't honestly say that I loved it (setting aside my moderate passion for ice cream in general) but I also don't think it's bad at all.  Though, what I think really elevates it is adding in some fresh berries--or some sort of fruit sauce--like cherry sauce--which is what I had on hand.  I'm not sure why or what the reasons are, but in the same way that vanilla ice cream and brownies go well, basil and berries pair quite nicely too.  Throw in some white chocolate magic shell (I made my own which was extremely easy) and you've got an amazing alternative type sundae.  It might seem like a very odd flavor but--as I mentioned earlier--it's no stranger than green tea ice cream.  So if you like that, then you'd probably enjoy this.  It's actually kind of a refreshing flavor--worth a try.  And for someone who isn't the biggest ice cream lover, I think that's saying something.

Recipe slightly adapted from Saveur

2 cups basil leaves
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 T lime zest
1/4 tsp salt
6 large egg yolks

First, combine everything in a blender until completely smooth.  Then transfer the mixture to a medium or large saucepan.  Heat the mixture over low heat, stirring often, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture has just almost come to a simmer.  Once heated through, remove from the heat and pour it through a fine mesh sieve over a large clean bowl.  Discard the leftover basil leaves.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator overnight.  The next day, freeze the mixture according to the instructions for whatever ice cream maker you utilize.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Almond Berry Tarts

I’ve recently discovered how to make my own almond cream.  And how I can replace the almonds with pistachios or hazelnuts or pecans…  Basically, a whole new world full of joy has just been revealed to me.  And with summer fruit season in full swing, it’s fairly inevitable that I should pair the two. 

It’s funny because pastry chefs have been using almond creams and pistachio creams to do just that for a while and I’ve probably been eating them often enough but never realized precisely the bliss my taste buds were experiencing.  But now I know.  And I’ve been putting this knowledge to good use lately.  

I read about almond cream from Dorie Greenspan in Baking Chez Moi and while she was discussing it, she offered up the tidbit of replacing the almonds with other nuts like pistachios.  So I actually made pistachio cream first.  And I fell in love with it.  Then I tried a pecan cream and was equally smitten.  In fact, I made two galletes with  some fresh summer fruit—one with pistachio cream and one with pecan cream.  If not for some technical difficulties (new camera coupled with some personal technical density) they both would have probably made it onto my blog.  Nevertheless, I come here bearing a new product with almond cream—one of the tree nuts I had yet to try my hand at.  And it did not disappoint either.  I paired the almond cream with some raspberries and blackberries and threw them both into some partially-baked pâte sablée.  The entire combination wasn’t too sweet or rich—it was pretty right on.  

Admittedly, I think I prefer the pistachio and pecan creams over the almond cream.  But it’s not as though I’d ever pass on an almond one—it’s pretty delicious nonetheless.  The great thing about these recipes is that they are super easy to make—professional pastry chefs use them all of the time and that’s probably because they’re equally delicious and easy to make.  That said, I certainly don’t think this is something that the every day baker couldn’t or shouldn’t tackle.  It’s an amazing addition to spruce of a fruit tart at any time of the year.


Pâte sablée from Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan (enough dough for 1 double crust pie for a standard 9 inch pie pan or six 4 inch individual tart pans with some dough still leftover)

408g (3 cups) all purpose flour
120g (1 cup) confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
256g (18 T) chilled unsalted butter and cut into small quarter-inch cubes
2 large egg yolks

First, butter your tarts pans and set aside.  Then, prepare the dough.  You can do this in a food processor or by hand.  I did mine in my food processor so here's how that went...  Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of the food processor and pulse to combine.  Place the butter in the food processor and pulse until the mixture has clumps the size of peas--you may need to manually stir the mixture up a bit to make sure the butter has been distributed evenly.  Add the egg yolks and pulse until they have fully moistened the dough.  Remove the dough from the bowl of the food processor and place it on a work surface.  Lightly knead it just to make sure there aren't any dry bits leftover. After that, you can either roll the dough out and place it into the tart pans or press it into the pans.  I pressed my into the pans--which I found to be easier.  Once the pans are lined with dough, prick the bottoms of each tart pan all over with a fork.  Place the tart pans on a large baking sheet, cover it with plastic wrap and then place the pan into the refrigerator to chill until you're ready to par-bake them.

Almond Cream from Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan

85g (6 T) unsalted butter at room temp.
132g (2/3 cup) granulated sugar
75g (3/4 cup) almond flour
2 tsp all purpose flour
1 tsp corn starch
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract

Place the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Attach the bowl to the mixer and using the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until it's creamy--1-2 minutes.  Then, add the sugar to the bowl and beat the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed until the mixture is light and fluffy--3-5 minutes.  Add the flours and corn starch and beat until fully combined.  Next, add the egg and beat until it has been fully combined--making sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl so that all of the ingredients have been thoroughly combined.  Lastly, add the vanilla and beat until it has been combined.  Store the almond cream in an air tight container in the refrigerator until read to use.


1 - 1 1/2 cups of fresh raspberries and blackberries

First, par-bake the dough-lined tart pans.  Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Line each dough-lined tart pan with parchment paper and fill each one with pie weights.  Bake them for about 12-15 minutes and then remove them from the oven to cool completely--and remove the pie weights and parchment paper.  Once the par-baked dough is completely cool, preheat the oven to 350 F.  Then, divide up the almond cream evenly between each pan and spread it evenly over the bottom of each one. Divide up the berries between the tart pans and spread them atop the almond cream.  Bake the tarts for 30-45 minutes or until the almond cream has puffed up and slightly browned.  Remove the tarts from the oven and let cool.  

Friday, August 21, 2015

Basque Cake

Ever since I discovered the basque cake at a cafe--Floriole to be specific--in my hometown, I've been kind of obsessed with finding a recipe that rivals it--or at least comes close to it.  I suppose I could just politely ask for the recipe from said establishment, but I have my doubts that they'd give it to me.

Nevertheless, I think this particular concoction that I came across comes pretty damn close--maybe a few tweaks and it would be even closer. But even on it's own--without comparing--it's a heartstopping cake.  And it literally might stop your heart.  I have never made a single cake that has a POUND OF BUTTER and a POUND OF SUGAR in it--plus a full tablespoon of kosher salt.

This has to be the richest cake known to humankind.  It's not a cake for those who are trying to "cut back."  It's not a cake for those who are looking to eat better.  This cake is very very bad for you. the same time it's soooo darn good for you too.  If this were the last cake I was to eat before I died, I would probably die happy.

That said--admittedly I experienced certain bouts of angst during the process of making this cake. Specifically when I had to weigh out the pound of butter and sugar.  I kept asking myself, 'Should I really do this?  Is this right?  Should I find another recipe?  Am I gonna die after eating this thing?'  All of those answers became quite clear after the first bite--yes, yes, no way, who cares--this is so f'ing good.   This is the kind of the dessert that's really just good for your soul.

Recipe adapted from Amanda Rockman's Basque Cake recipe via Lottie + Doof

16 oz unsalted butter at room temp.
16 oz granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla bean paste
3 large eggs at room temp.
10.5 oz cake flour
2.5 oz almond flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 T kosher salt
6-8 oz of cherry preserves

First, butter and flour an 8, 9 or 10 inch spring form pan (the original recipe I found called for an 8 inch pan but I only had a 10 inch one so I used it and it worked fine).  Next, preheat the oven to 325 F.  Then in a medium bowl, combine the flours, salt and baking powder and whisk to combine--set it aside. Now, place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, and then using the mixer and the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for about 3-5 minutes until it's light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla bean paste and mix just until it's fully incorporated.  Then stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.  Next begin adding each egg one at a time beating well so that each egg is fully incorporated into the mixture before the next egg is added--scrape down the bowl as necessary.  Finally, the add flour mixture and mix on low speed just until it has been completely incorporated into the mixture.

Now for assembly--you can choose to do this a couple of ways.  The first way is by spooning half of the batter into the baking pan and spreading it out and creating a bit of a well in the middle where the cherry preserves will sit.  Or, place the batter into a piping bag and then pipe half of the batter into the pan and create a well that way.  Either way you go about it will work as far as I'm concerned. Nevertheless, once you have half the batter spread in the bottom of the pan with a well in the center of the batter, spoon the cherry preserves into that well.  Then pour/pipe the rest of the batter on top of the preserves and cake batter and smooth out the top evenly.  Finally, place the cake in the oven to bake for at least an hour--mine took about 75 minutes (like the original recipe stated).  The cake is done when it's set and as the original recipe stated--err on the side of baking longer because the cake has so much fat in it, it would be quite difficult to dry it out.  Once the cake is done, remove it from the oven and let cool completely before removing it from the pan.  Eat in small portions--if you can resist...