Monday, November 23, 2015

The first Michigan snowfall this season, plus some tea shortbread cookies

It's gently snowing at the moment and quite lovely.  We had our first real snowfall over the weekend, about 3 inches or so - really not much, but seeing that first snowy ground cover is always kind of exciting.  What might this winter bring, we ask?

still a few leaves on the burning bushes

looking north

For some time now I've been using a tea shortbread recipe that I received some years ago at a Women Chefs and Restauranteurs conference in Washington DC.  The presenter of one of the seminars on uses of tea in baking and cooking was Chef Laurie Bell of Great Falls Tea Garden.  She had cookie samples to share with us, having chosen a fennel chai tea as that day's particular flavor.  So yummy.

I just checked out their website and the business is still going strong.  Great stuff for you tea lovers.

my much used recipe copy

As you can see the recipe uses ground tea and ground almonds - use any tea your little heart desires and substitute any nut of choice - lots of versatility in this one folks!

Here in Grand Rapids Michigan Schuil Coffee Company ( sells all manner of flavored coffees and teas.  I popped in there the other day for the express purpose of purchasing their Earl Grey with jasmine bulk tea, and, in the process, opted for a Mayan chocolate tea as well. "It's peppery!" was the side note from the staff.  Perfect for these shortbread cookies, I say.

les ingredients

In the bowl above I have 57 gm almond flour (you can grind your own toasted, sliced or slivered almonds easily enough), 130 gm all purpose flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 75 gm sugar. In the forefront is my 10 gm of ground Earl Grey jasmine tea which will go in with the dry ingredients.  Then I simply dice my butter, sand it into the dry mix until it comes together.  Wrap and chill.

For the Mayan tea I opted to make two batches - one using the above recipe, obviously replacing the Earl Grey with the Mayan chocolate tea, and one substituting pistachios for almonds and adding cocoa powder to the mix. After all, when I hear "Mayan chocolate", I see a chocolate cookie in my mind's eye.  Among other things, the Mayan tea contains cardamom pods, cocoa and ginger pieces and black pepper - all good with chocolate if you ask me.

Oh! FYI - for the pistachio chocolate version I cut the flour back to 110 gm and added 24 gm of cocoa powder to the dry ingredients.

Once the doughs were completed, wrapped and chilled, I prepared for baking.

I love the many different cutter shapes available, and I chose three different ones to help me keep track of which cookie was which.

ready for the oven

These bake at 325 convection for about 20-25 minutes - remember to pay attention to what's going on in that oven of yours!

just out of the oven

Et voila!

getting into the holiday spirit

Bien sûr Steve and I had to do a little taste testing.   

The Earl Grey jasmine was delightful with a subtle floral hint to the more classic Earl Grey flavor. And I'm normally not much of a floral flavor fan (how's that for alliteration?)

While the straight Mayan chocolate tea version was smooth and tasty with a nice peppery aftertaste, the pistachio cocoa version was a tad dry, most likely due to the added cocoa powder (but delicious nonetheless).  Next go around I'll back down the cocoa powder a bit to 15 gm and up the flour to 120 gm.  And I'm considering a skosh more butter for that version as well.  The choice of pistachios is great for this flavor profile.

As I anticipate the upcoming December holidays and preparing gift boxes of shortbread,  I'm working on a special tea assortment.  I have a couple more flavor ideas bopping around in my head and hope to have the final assortment chosen soon.  Can't wait!

And Happy Thanksgiving to all from snowy Michigan.


Monday, November 2, 2015

Italian cookie trials and more

It's already November and the holidays are creeping up on us - watch out!!

Lately I've been busy in the kitchen testing out some Italian cookie recipes for holiday gift boxes for a local café.

Brutti ma buoni (ugly but good), a ground nut (hazelnut version here) meringue cookie . . . .

Ricciarelli - a classic Senese almond cookie . . . . .

Biscotti doppio cioccolato - double chocolate biscotti . . . .

of course I had to dip some in chocolate!

and semolina shortbread (sorry - no pic!).

They all turned out pretty darn tasty!

In the meantime I'm cranking out my own petite shortbread for some sample give away boxes.  I love to hand out goodies for folks to try.

Eight flavors of goodness

Recently I made a batch of reverse puff pastry to have on hand for whatever might come along.  And, being apple season, there's nothing like the combo of buttery puff and lightly sautéed, caramelized apples.  Yum, yum.  Here are some chausson aux pommes I made a couple of weeks ago.

Last week I visited Aquinas College's Browne Center to speak to the ladies there about getting on their "lifelong learning" adult education schedule to teach some pastry classes.  Yeah!

I never like to arrive empty handed so an assortment of treats was in order.

In a slightly different take on a chausson I rolled out some puff, cut hexagons, brushed with milk and sprinkled with sugar . . .

 and baked them.

puffed and sparkly

I make an indentation in the top of the baked puff, top them with a scoop of the above mentioned apples, drizzle some caramel on and bake them again just to warm the apples through.  So delicious.

I included these apple feuilletée along with matcha-berry financier and some gateau Breton aux amandes et confiture in the goodie box for the Browne center crew.

A brief postscript to the above:  I wrote about gateau Breton in my last post, but this time I topped the dough with either apricot or four fruits jam, a ring of almond cream and some sliced almonds before baking.  What buttery, nutty goodness.

all baked and ready to eat

Lots of fun and much more to do before New Year's Day hits!

Stay tuned.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Gateau Breton

Perhaps I've mentioned this wonderful goodie in previous posts, if only to speak of its ease of preparation and its delightful taste and texture.  In the wake of making a walnut version recently, I thought it time to focus on Breton dough a bit more.  Absolument!

Gateau Breton au noix

In Brittany a simple gateau Breton is a common offering for petit déjeuner.  It's hard to describe its texture - kind of a cross between cake and shortbread.  When you first take a bite, there is a crispiness to the exterior, but then you reach a dense, almost cake-like interior full of buttery goodness. So deelish.

Breton dough is in the sablé category of dough, but differs from some pâte sablés by changing up the sugar, butter and flour ratios, adding more egg yolks plus baking powder, not a typical ingredient in shortbread and tart doughs.

There are many Breton dough recipes out there.  Most of them utilize equal weights (or close) of sugar and butter in addition to a number of egg yolks, and an amount of flour that is usually about 2 times by weight of that of the sugar or butter.  You can replace some of the flour with a ground nut flour of choice, e.g. almond, pistachio or walnut. Tons of variations exist!

The beauty of Breton dough is its ease of mixing and shaping.  Plus, depending on how thick you bake it, you'll end up with a crispy shortbread (baked thin) or a classic gateau Breton (baked thick).  How can you go wrong with those choices?!

For my walnut version I used Christophe Felder's sablé Breton recipe from his book Les Folles Tartes, replacing the almond flour with toasted, then ground walnuts (toasting nuts before using brings out their flavor!).

I'm a pastry chef who takes lots of notes.  In Felder's book the dough is described thus:  "sablé aéré et léger", and my notation of 2/11/11 was "c'est vrai!" On that date I baked this Breton dough in 60 mm rings and served it with ricotta custard, almond nougatine and a blackberry/raspberry sorbet.  Wow!  How can something be dense yet airy and light at the same time?  You just have to taste it to understand.

I've since created versions of Breton tarts by topping the dough with almond or pistachio cream and berries or cherries before baking.  You can also add a layer of raspberry or apricot jam (or any flavor you want!) between two layers of dough before baking.  Or bake it plain and top with citrus curd and fresh fruit or coconut cream, candied lime zest and chopped crystallized ginger.  Just use your imagination!

On to the recipe.

les ingredients

There are different methods of mixing the dough - I use the one I learned at LCB in Paris in which one puts all the ingredients except the yolks in the mixing bowl, brings it to the crumbly stage, then adds the yolks and mixes just until the dough comes together.  So easy.

Here goes.  Place 140 g sugar, 150 g diced/cool butter, 200 g all purpose flour, 70 g ground toasted walnuts (almonds if you're following Felder's recipe), 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt in the mixing bowl.

NOTE:  Felder calls for 20 g baking powder which is about 2 tablespoons.  I opted to cut it back so as to avoid too heavy of a baking powder taste.

Mix with the paddle on low until coarse crumbs.  Have 3 egg yolks standing by.

ready to start mixing

coarse crumbs

 Now add the 3 yolks and blend just until the dough comes together.

c'est fini!

I baked my gateaux Bretons in 80 mm (~3") wide, 2.5 cm (1") tall open rings.  Butter them first and place them on a parchment lined sheet pan.  Heat the oven to 325ºF (I use convection).

Here's the beauty of Breton dough.  When baking it this way, you don't have to chill it or let it rest first.  You can simply press it into place.  I divided the dough up among 6 rings ( ~105 g per ring) and pressed it down evenly.

all divided up

all pressed down evenly

On a side note, if you're baking this dough as a thin cookie, you should wrap and chill it for a couple of hours first.  Then you can roll it out on a lightly floured surface and cut shapes of choice.

Bake these gateaux for about 20-25 minutes and REMEMBER - always watch what's going on in your oven.  You're looking for golden brown deliciousness, and the dough should have risen up along the edges of the rings.

golden brown

looks yummy

Let cool for about 10-15 minutes before gently removing from the rings.

I served the gateaux with warm, sautéed plums prepared as follows.

Thinly slice 4 plums, toss them with a bit of lemon zest,  about 1/4 cup of vanilla sugar and  a couple of teaspoons of cornstarch . . . .

all mixed up

then sauté them over med-low heat until the juices are released and start to thicken, 5-10 minutes.

thickened up and ready to go

And the piéce de resistance . . . .

Gateau Breton with sautéed plums, chantilly cream and nut crumble

Très, très délicieux!

Happy autumn tout le monde!!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Autumn baking and an afternoon tea medley

Once again it's been a long time since I've posted here - moving, unpacking, getting settled, painting rooms, figuring out our flow in the kitchen - it all takes awhile.  But now it's officially autumn and yes - it's baking season!!!

The weather here in western Michigan has been pristinely fall of late - cool, breezy, bright and sunny with leaves starting to turn those beautiful reds and oranges that make this time of year so gorgeous.

My last post in early August focused on a rustic peach crostata, and, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I've continued on in a rustic galette vein (in Italy it's crostata and in France galette) since there have still been late season peaches and berries available at the Fulton Farmers Market.

A few weeks ago I made two galettes for a friend for her Sunday family dinner, and then recently taught my first "guest chef" class at the GR Downtown Market.  And guess what we made - individual galettes - yeah!  So easy and soooooo delicious.

On a different note I continue to contemplate how I'd like to pursue my pastry metier here in Grand Rapids. Aside from teaching classes, afternoon tea is still on my brain - where might I be able to offer such a calming, delicious experience - time will tell, right?  I'm making some connections and working at it "slow by slow" as brother-in-law Jim is fond of saying.

Speaking of afternoon tea, I was invited to share that experience with a former surgical mentor and colleague just the other day.  Of course I HAD to make an assortment of goodies to bring to the occasion.  And, to make that adventure even more enjoyable, our new Kitchenaid range is delivering perfect baked goods!

So it was moelleux chocolat, matcha financier, pear almond tartlets, sablés au miel et herbes de provence, sablés Earl Grey thé and cherry scones with lemon curd that accompanied me to my teatime with Dr. T.

moelleux chocolat with hazelnut crumble, matcha financier

pear almond tartlet, shortbread and scones

It was an enjoyable hour spent chatting about what the years have brought, hopes and aspirations and even how important it is in the medical world today to treat patients as people, not statistics.  I'm on board with that!

So now my head is swimming with ideas for upcoming blog posts, getting back to baking croissants, tarts and shortbread and putting aside (at least temporarily) the unpacking, sorting, organizing, arranging and painting that has been taking up so much of my attention in recent weeks.

It's fall after all!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Michigan peaches and a rustic crostata

It's peach season in Michigan again!!  Love, love, love it.  The photo below is actually one I posted back in October, 2014 from last summer's crop.  Deelish.

Fulton St. farmers market

It seems this summer has been taken up by trips back and forth between Providence RI and Grand Rapids, MI, as well as all the things that have to be done when moving and buying a condo - changing addresses, setting up new accounts (oh boy - more passwords!!!), spackling/sanding, painting and more, more, more.

Even so, I've been able to whip up a few different rustic crostatas in the past week or so.  Planning ahead for some family occasions I made a 3-crostata batch of pâte brisée sucrée (a slight variation on my usual pâte brisée with the addition of egg and a bit of cream), some of which went into the freezer until needed.  I find the texture and flexibility of this dough lends itself very nicely to the necessary dough pleating for a crostata.

Here is one version I made for Mom's birthday with Red Haven peaches plus a few blueberries (Michigan of course) and raspberries tossed in for extra measure.  Add a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream and you're all set.

nice and juicy

love that fruit

Happy birthday Mom!