Saturday, July 4, 2015

Jour de l'Indépendence et les tartes aux saison - cerises et fraises

Happy July 4 tout les mondes!

Steve and I visited the Fulton Street Farmers Market here in Grand Rapids MI yesterday with the express purpose of buying fresh cherries for the tart I was planning for the day's celebration.

Not only did we find cherries, cherries, cherries but soooo much more.  The covered outdoor market is a colorful and enticing destination with all manner of veggies, fruits, perennials, herbs, meats, cheeses and a smattering of local artisans selling their wares.  And surely I've omitted some of the other goods we saw.

Fulton Street Farmers Market

As is often the case, I plan my tarts (and baking in general) around what fridge stock needs to be used up.  This time it's ricotta and buttermilk, both perfect complements to fresh summer fruit.

I decided to bake two different tarts as a way to highlight some of the local seasonal fruit.  I was already planning on cherries but when I saw the strawberries, they looked so succulent I couldn't pass them up. I also bought a small box of California lemons for only ONE DOLLAR (such a deal!) - perfect for my lemon buttermilk filling.

So the day's duo includes tarte citron aux fraises and tarte aux cerises/vanille/ricotta.

laying out the fruit

I used my favorite pâte d'amande, blind baked, for both of the tarts.  First up is the tarte citron which is actually a lemon buttermilk tart à la Emily Luchetti.  She makes hers with raspberries baked in the tangy filling, but I baked it sans fruit, saving my fresh strawberries for the after baking garnish.

ready for blind baking

 The filling is trés simple and is made by whisking together 3 large eggs, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 1/2 cups buttermilk, 2 tablespoons heavy cream, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, 8 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, zest of 2 lemons, 1/3 cup flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a pinch of ground nutmeg.

working on the filling

Pour the filling into the blind baked crust and bake at 325º for about 50 minutes until set.

just out of the oven

Once cooled I garnished the top with fresh strawberries brushed with a hint of vanilla syrup for a bit of sheen.

Next up - the cherry/vanilla/ricotta tart.  This filling is another straight forward preparation, made by whisking together 4 large eggs, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon flour, the seeds scraped from one vanilla bean, plus 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 2 cups ricotta (whole milk or part skim - your choice).

les ingredients

Pit and halve 1 1/2 cups of sweet cherries and place them on the bottom of the blind baked tart shell.

Pour the filling over . . . .

ready for the oven

and bake at 350º for about 30-35 minutes until set.

just out of the oven

Once cooled I garnished with a central pile of whole, unpitted cherries just for fun.

Nothin' fancy here folks!

Time to eat.

Slicing was a bit messy.  Steve and I shared a sample piece of each.  The lemon buttermilk was tasty with a nice tang that went well with the fresh, ripe strawberries, but we both found the cherry ricotta lacking a little something.  The texture was smooth but there wasn't much bold cherry flavor to complement the ricotta custard, and I would have liked a more intense vanilla component.

All in all not bad but next time I'd roast the cherries in raw sugar ahead of time (as I've done for gateau Basque) to provide a richer cherry experience.

So Happy Birthday USA!  On to the fireworks!!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A couple of delicious restaurant desserts

I cannot believe it's been a full month since I've posted anything here!  Moving from the Northeast USA to the Midwest seems to be taking up a good deal of our time.  I've already missed the bulk of the Michigan strawberry season, thinking last week that I would make a tarte aux fraises that, alas, never materialized.

Although it did feel good to squeeze in a batch of ricotta buttermilk scones the other day and start to dream of a Michigan cherry ricotta tart for July 4th.

Recently we took a short 2-day trip to Traverse City and the Leelenau Peninsula with our British friends, Richard and Pauline.  We enjoyed picture perfect Michigan summer weather as we toured around the Sleeping Bear national lake shore and dipped our toes in Lake Michigan (Richard actually went in, head under!).

Richard and I running down the dunes at Sleeping Bear

Prior to the trip we had been given some dining recommendations by Patricia Christopher, a fine chocolatier in Grand Haven that we met a couple of months ago.  One of those was Trattoria Stella in Traverse City, very big on the farm-to-table approach.  We enjoyed the food although the service seemed a bit frenetic and the servers somewhat stiff and serious as they delivered their obviously choreographed lines.  Hey folks - lighten up!

I normally skip dessert but when it was time for that portion of the meal, I was intrigued by the choices, since typically I find many restaurant dessert menus to be unimaginative and not all that enticing.

I chose the strawberry-hummingbird option which turned out to be a delicious tart with a hummingbird tea infused custard baked in a lovely crust, topped with lemon ice cream and fresh strawberries and garnished with "hummingbird nectar glaze".  It was very nicely done!

Upon briefly researching hummingbird tea I discovered it's a blend of rooibos tea and hibiscus (apparently very attractive to hummingbirds).  You learn something new every day.

Once we returned to Grand Rapids from the north country Richard and Pauline were kind enough to treat us to dinner out in downtown GR before they took off for Chicago the following day.

I had been to Reserve Wine and Food once before for a wine tasting and thought it deserved another visit.  It's in a refurbished bank and is touted as a "hip and elegant locale" highlighting "farm to fork" cuisine.

After we had finished our delicious, well prepared and nicely presented meals, imagine my surprise to see a Basque cake on the dessert menu!  Whoa baby, now you're talking my lingo!!

Pauline and I both went for it, but since they only had one serving left, our server split it for us and added a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream "for your trouble".  Topped with a strawberry-rhubarb compote, it was deeeelicious.

Yessiree, it's good to be back in Michigan and see how far the culinary scene has come since we lived here 21 years ago.  And it's only the beginning!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Crunchy topped choux

As a brief respite from traveling, moving and trying to figure out where we're going to live, I wanted to prepare something for dessert for my Aunt Marian's birthday lunch.  Part of the reason Steve and I are transitioning back to Michigan is so we can be on the ground, as it were, to lend a hand to my Mom and her sibs and sibs-in-law, all of whom are aging as we speak.  But then, aren't we all??

At first I was going to turn to one of my standards - financier, a tart of some sort, shortbread - all the usual suspects.  And then my thoughts turned to choux!

Some years ago while visiting my pastry friend Misato in Mulhouse (Alsace) I was perusing one of her pastry books by Jean-Michel Perruchon.  I was intrigued by the recipes for crunchy topping for pâte à choux, as well as the different fruity variations of pastry cream - a whole new world opened up to me!

Since then I had tried the crunchy topping thing as well as a pear pastry cream version for a tart I created and found them very satisfying.  For some reason I put those ideas aside as other things in the pastry world seemed to grab my attention.

But now, as I reviewed Dorie Greenspan's "Baking Chez Moi", I found her recipes for "Crackle-Top Cream Puffs" and "Bubble Eclairs".  The wheels started spinning.

Inspired by raspberries on sale at Meijer for $1! per 6 oz, I decided to make a raspberry pastry cream to fill my version of "bubble-crackle-top eclairs".

OK - so let's get to it.

First - the crackle-top dough.  This is basically akin to a crumble - mix 64 gm cool, diced butter, 100 gm sugar (in this case brown sugar), 85 gm all-purpose flour, a pinch of salt and 3/4 tsp vanilla extract . . . .

les ingredients

and form a rough dough that just holds together.

crumbly but holds together when squeezed

Form a disc . . . .

and roll it to 1/16" thick between two sheets of parchment paper.

Freeze it for a couple of hours (or until ready to bake your choux puffs), then cut into rounds that will later top the puffs.  You can hold this dough frozen and wrapped for many days!

I wrapped the scraps and froze them for another time.

Second - the pastry cream.  The beauty of this is its make-ahead-by-a-day-or-two feature.

Initially I found the whole idea of a fruit version of pastry cream (hmmm, fruit puree and milk?) kind of odd.  But, as I thought about it, we use fruit purees and dairy in many ways -ice cream,  smoothies, cheesecake, mascarpone cream to name a few.  Instead of using only milk as the liquid base as is typical for standard pastry cream, one can create variations by using a combination of fruit puree and milk, proceeding with the very same process used to make pastry cream with egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch.  I like to think of it as a cross between pastry cream and curd.

I wasn't sure how much puree my 12 oz of fresh raspberries would yield, so I smooshed and strained them with a yield of 215 gm.  Now I could figure out the quantities for the remaining ingredients.

In Perruchon's recipes a greater proportion of fruit puree is used compared to the milk e.g. 500 gm puree + 100 gm milk.  I tweaked the proportions based on my 215 gm of raspberry puree, using equal weights of puree and milk.

To sum up, my recipe used 215 gm raspberry puree, 215 gm whole milk, 95 gm egg yolk, 77 gm sugar and 40 gm cornstarch; 20 gm butter is added at the end of the cooking process.  If you don't know the standard process for making pastry cream, you can find many sources on line to help you.

Once the raspberry pastry cream was made I covered and chilled it until I was ready to use it the next day.

Next up - pâte à choux.  For this I went with my standard recipe from Michel Roux - in a medium pan bring 125 gm milk, 125 gm water, 1 1/2 tsp sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 100 gm diced butter to a boil; remove from the heat and stir in 150 gm flour all at once; place back on the heat and stir for a minute or so to dry it (you'll see a thin film on the bottom of the pan); stir in 4 eggs, one at a time, until you have a smooth, silky paste.

Here is the panada (the paste before the eggs are added) . . . .

check out the thin coating on the bottom of the pan

and after the egg addition . . .

silky smooth

I piped out the puffs in series of three, each ball snuggling up to the next . . .

and topped them with the chilled crackle dough rounds.

ready for the oven

 Pretty cool!

Bake them at 375º for about 35 minutes until the tops are browned and the puffs are golden and firm to the touch.

Oh yeah - lookin' good!

Once the puffs are cooled it's time to garnish.

I typically lighten my pastry cream with a small percentage of whipped cream.  In this case I blended 100 gm whipped cream into my raspberry pastry cream.

whipped cream and pastry cream ready to be blended together

One can garnish puffs or eclairs in two different ways - slice the choux, pipe the cream decoratively on the bottom half and sandwich- OR fill the choux from the bottom.

the non crackle-top in the foreground was my practice version!

I opted for the fill-from-the-bottom technique, finding it much more user friendly than slicing each one in half.  Plus, I've filled a LARGE share of puffs and eclairs over the years, and it's like riding a bicycle.

Poke holes in the bottoms and, using a pastry bag with a 6 mm tip, fill each section until the cream starts to ooze out of the adjacent holes.  That way you know you've filled adequately.  Once you've done this multiple times you begin to understand what the "heft" of a well filled puff is all about.

I'm told that Parisians get mighty peeved if their eclairs and profiteroles aren't filled properly!

I scrape the excess off with a small offset spatula, place them crunch side up and dust them with powdered sugar.  And we're off to the races!

These were well received by the family, who had gathered at Uncle John's Clear Bottom Lake cottage to celebrate Aunt Marian's 86th birthday.  The crunchy top is such a wonderful contrast to the cool, creamy filling and the light as air choux.  I enjoyed the raspberry cream, although Steve still holds out for classic pastry cream (praline and chocolate are some of his faves too).

Happy Birthday Aunt Marian!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Moving, moving, moving and more hazelnut flour!

Wow - it seems like a long time since I've written about baking and delectable goodies!  I miss it but soon I'll be back in the saddle, as the old cowpokes say.

Steve and I are in the midst of our transition from Providence, RI to Grand Rapids, MI so my time spent in the kitchen has dropped pretty dramatically in recent weeks.  Yet . . .  I still have a few ingredients to use up, particularly the seemingly never ending supply of hazelnut flour in my freezer.

Soooooo - since we were planning on Memorial Day weekend supper at Dick and Dorothy's I developed a plan for dessert - the always popular pavé aux noisette, but this time with lime ice cream, blackberry sauce, fresh berries and toasted almonds.  YUM!

And, in addition, since making ice cream gives me egg whites to use up, I made a chocolate chunk hazelnut version of financier.  Delicious.

chocolate chunk hazelnut financier

hazelnut, lime, blackberry dessert

As the school year comes to a close and summer creeps up on us I suspect many of you will be spending more time out of doors and less time dealing with a hot oven.  It's only natural.

But for me, once we're settled in our new home (as yet to be determined), you can bet I'll be sharing my baking adventures with you.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A trio of treats for Sunday lunch at Mom's

Steve and I are currently in Grand Rapids spending time with my mom through the Mother's Day weekend.  She had planned a Sunday luncheon for a group of 12 lady friends so, of course, I had to make something for dessert!

The plan - blueberry financier,  moelleux chocolat and Breton shortbread with orange mascarpone and fresh citrus garnish.

lovely colors for the plate

working on the plating

All in all pretty straightforward - chocolate, moist almond cake, buttery Breton, a bit of fruit and some orange zested cream.  What's not to like?

the final medley

It's always fun to put a trio together!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Gateau Basque from Christophe Felder

Hmmmm - Gateau Basque - now just what is that all about?  Well let me tell you.  It's a traditional Basque butter cake baked with a pastry cream filling and/or cherry jam (for those of you who like fruit in your desserts).  It's kind of a cross between a cake and a tart and leans toward either of those depending on which recipe you use.  More about that later.

Gateau Basque (let's call it GB) was one of the first cakes we made in the basic pastry curriculum at LCB in Paris.  We were told then that one can make it with pastry cream and cherries or can substitute prunes or dried apricots.  As I researched it online I found pictures of many variations for this cake - some with only pastry cream, some with only cherries (black cherry jam to be precise) - including a couple of chocolate versions and one with a pink tinged (cherry? strawberry? raspberry?) pastry cream filling.  Let's hear it for artistic license, eh?

Below are the individual versions of GB that I made in my pastry studio at Hope Artiste Village a couple of years ago.  I used the LCB recipe from my schooling days and baked them with pastry cream and dried tart cherries that had been plumped up first in hot water ( you could use cherry juice or liqueur if you wanted).

When I was reading up on the topic back then, I remember one source (can't for the life of me tell you where I found it!) advising that a good GB should be one in which the interior pastry cream layer becomes one with the dough during baking, sort of melding into it without being identifiable as a distinct layer.  That's how the above LCB versions came out, and they were tasty!  Buttery, crumbly, yet cake-like, not too sweet and oh-so-good with a cup of coffee or tea.

Now, as I review the topic again, I see many photos of the sliced cake showing very distinct pastry cream/fruit layers.  That seems to be the way of it.

On to the task at hand.

This time I opted to try Christophe Felder's GB recipe from his book Patisserie!.  His leçons focus on a particular component e.g. a type of dough or pâte and carry that through to a finished product.  I like that. 

As I compare his recipe with LCB's there are several variations - his has a bit less butter, less sugar, fewer eggs and calls for almond flour along with all purpose flour.

He treats this dough like a tart dough, whereas the LCB recipe uses it more as a batter (and a very thick one at that). 

les ingredients

For the pâte à gateau basque place 175 gm soft butter, 125 gm sugar, 85 gm almond flour and the zest of one lemon in a mixing bowl.  Blend it by hand with a spatula or in the mixer with the paddle attachment on low speed.  Then blend in one egg yolk plus 25 gm of beaten egg (1/2 an egg) followed by 225 gm all purpose flour and a pinch of salt.

I mixed it until it looked like large curds (as seen below),

then brought it together by hand.

Wrap it up and into the fridge it goes for a couple of hours.

In the meantime I made a batch of basic pastry cream in the usual fashion using 250 ml whole milk, 3 egg yolks, 45 gm sugar, 20 gm cornstarch and a tablespoon of hazelnut liqueur (in place of the recommended rum) whisked in after the cooking process.

crème pâtissière

I like to cool the pastry cream on a plastic lined quarter sheet pan, folding the plastic over it to eliminate air and pop it in the fridge.  It doesn't take long.

Next up - the cherries.  Since I preferred not having a jar of leftover cherry jam (Christophe calls for 150 gm confiture de griottes) on my hands, I roasted 150 gm of frozen cherries with a couple of tablespoons of raw sugar and a pinch of salt at 450º for about 8 minutes (watch carefully so they don't burn!).  Then I added a couple tablespoons of hazelnut liqueur and gave them another 5 minutes in the oven.

before roasting

after roasting

I poured the cherries onto a clean flat pan and let them cool to room temp which allowed the syrup to thicken up a bit.

Now for the assembly.

Remove the chilled pâte from the fridge and divide it in two.  Butter an 8-9" round pan, line the bottom with parchment and butter and flour that.

my nod to Mickey Mouse

Roll out each of the pieces of dough slightly larger than the diameter of your pan.

Trim off the excess and place one round into the prepared pan.  Roll the scraps into a long snake and place it around the periphery of the pan, gently pressing it in to adhere it to the sides of the pan and the bottom dough layer.

I piped a layer of pastry cream over the bottom, topped it with the cherries and finished off the cream over the cherries.

Note - you can put the cherries in first and pipe the cream over them, or pipe all the cream in and top with the cherries - it doesn't really matter.

Take the second round of dough and place it over the filling.  Tuck it in nicely around the edges and remove the excess.

I used most of the dough to create a nice rim all the way around, leaving very few scraps.

almost ready for the oven

Give the surface a brush with egg wash, pop it in the fridge for a few minutes, give a second coat of egg wash and create cross-hatch marks with a fork.

At LCB we were told that there are a variety of patterns one can use.  As I understand it, in true Basque fashion, certain surface markings indicate what type of filling is inside i.e. cream only or jam only.  I basically winged it with mine.

Bake in a 350º oven for approximately 40 minutes until golden.

Once cooled a bit, turn it out of the pan and let cool on a wire rack.


I served this for dessert after a traditional Indonesian nasi goreng feast prepared by sister-in-law Dorothy's long time friend Jeanette from Toronto.  And what a feast it was!

What you see below are all of the cold portions of the meal which accompanied warm dishes of Indonesian fried rice, pork satay, coconut shrimp, beef with onions, chicken and various sauces.

My apologies Jeanette - I can't do the descriptions justice, but it was one delicious repast!

I felt almost too full for dessert, but the group was ready and willing so away we went.

Topped with crème chantilly and toasted almonds this was a delightful surprise.  While being in no way related to Indonesian food, it still seemed to fit the bill (more like a tart than a cake, not too sweet, buttery and cookie like) as a perfect ending to a meal full of flavorful contrasts.

The pastry cream/cherry layers remained distinct and certainly didn't detract from the overall experience, but in the future I think I'll go back to the LCB recipe.  In a nutshell its texture and overall flavor win out in my book.

And there you have it.