Thursday, January 5, 2017

Pistachio berry dacquoise

I'm a bit behind the curve on this one but welcome to 2017!

During the Christmas-New Year's week we had a lovely dinner at friend Margaret's cozy and festively decorated home.  She rustled up a Viennese beef stew with noodles, as a reminder of her recent trip to Austria in early December. Her friend Kate brought a delicious and full-of-good-stuff green salad, and I, of course, brought dessert.

Creamy custard, lightly sweetened berry compote, candied pistachios - all nestled on a dacquoise base.  Sounds pretty good!

Dacquoise is one of my favorite things to make (and to eat, yes sir!).  It's basically a soft nut meringue with the same ingredients as the popular and trendy French macaron, but it is WAY less fussy and tastes great too.

Having egg whites in the fridge is often the impetus I need to make dacquoise, and so it was that I began to imagine a pistachio version for my dessert creation.

The recipe: in a separate bowl whisk together 50 g almond flour, 50 g ground unsalted raw pistachios and 75 g confectioners sugar. In a mixer with the whisk attachment whip 3 egg whites with 25 g granulated sugar to stiff peaks.  Gently fold in the nut/confectioners sugar mixture just until blended.

NOTE:  you can use any ground nut, either by itself or as a mix - almond, pistachio, hazelnut, walnut or pecan - you decide.

Once the dacquoise is mixed you can pipe any shape you choose, depending on your dessert vision.

You can see what I did below.  I think of these as dacquoise rafts just waiting to float down a dessert river, and, in this case, destined to carry a creamy ricotta custard ingot.

ready for the oven

all baked up!

Dacquoise is one of the few things for which I use silicone baking mats.  The softly baked meringue lifts off the Silpat so easily.  It's a beautiful thing. And another plus is you can make these ahead and freeze them until ready to go.

Candied pistachios are next.  Adjust the recipe depending on the quantities you need, but a typical base recipe calls for 2 cups raw nuts, about 1/2 an egg white, some sugar as well as spices of choice if that's what you're after - cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, coriander, even a little cayenne pepper - it's up to you.

Just whisk up the egg white until foamy, whisk in about 1/4 cup sugar (and the optional spices) then stir in the nuts until coated.  Spread out onto a parchment or Silpat lined pan and bake at 325ºF, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until the egg whites have dried and things look toasty.  It usually takes about 20-25 minutes for me.

Good news - the nuts are another do-ahead component that will keep at room temperature in a covered container for many days.

crunchy goodness

The beauty of these is they aren't really very sweet, even though coated in sugar - just deliciously enjoyable!

The ricotta custard is a combo of 177 g ricotta, 354 g cream cheese, 112 g sugar, 2 eggs, 1 egg white, seeds from 1/2 scraped vanilla bean and 177 g heavy cream.  Beat the cheeses, sugar, vanilla bean in the mixer until smooth, beat in the egg and white, then add the cream and blend.

Pour the custard into flexible silicone molds of choice.  I used Silikomart's SF026 12-well ingot shaped mold. 

Place the molds on a sheet pan, pour some hot water in to bathe the lower half of the molds and bake at 275ºF until the custard is set.  The time will vary depending on the size of your molds (for these it took 20-25 minutes).  This recipe made about 20 custard ingots.

Once baked, let the custards cool to room temperature then put them, mold and all, into the freezer until firm.  Then you can pop them out of the molds and store them frozen. Yay!  Another do-ahead.

In the afternoon on your designated dessert day, just place the frozen shapes onto your chosen bases and refrigerate to thaw before serving.  The custards hold their shape and are ready to garnish and enjoy!

I made a berry compote with a mixture of raspberries and blackberries (total 300 g) in a saucepan with 40 g of sugar and some lime zest.  Heat 'em up until the berries break down a bit then stir in a cornstarch slurry (2 teaspoons cornstarch whisked in 1 tablespoon warm water) and simmer a few minutes until the mixture thickens.

Serve it a bit on the warm side or refrigerate it until ready to use. By now you know - do-ahead!!

What a luscious combination enjoyed by all! And a simple vanilla shortbread on the side added that extra special something.

Happy New Year from The French Tarte. Here's to all the baking and dessert creations to come!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Beer bread

For our Christmas Eve dinner Steve made carbonnade flamande, a Belgian/Flemish specialty of beef braised in beer and onion.  We experienced this very dish, much to our delight, during our trip to Bruges this past fall with my niece Christina and her family.  Needless to say, Steve was eager to try his hand at it.

For the dish he searched out the availability of Belgian beer here in Grand Rapids and came up with a dark Belgian style Canadian beer from Martha's Vineyard, a fantastic local purveyor of all things culinary, including a vast selection of wine and beer from far and wide.

Don't worry - the name "Terrible" certainly did NOT indicate the flavor of this hearty brew!

Since Steve didn't use the entire 750 ml bottle of beer for the carbonnade, I decided to finish it off by making beer bread.  So, of course, I turned to Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible.

What a straight forward recipe!  Easy to mix up, whether by hand or in the mixer, soft and supple and carrying the aroma of yeasty beer.

This recipe utilizes the straight dough method, which simply means mixing the ingredients together, kneading the mélange to achieve a smooth, elastic dough, giving it a first rise, shaping a boule and then giving it a second rise.  I know I've mentioned this in previous posts but it never hurts to go over it again - that's one of the ways we learn!

Even though I do love kneading dough by hand, this time I decided to use the Kitchenaid. The process went like this:  in the mixer bowl whisk together 4 g instant yeast, 12.5 g sugar, 380 g bread flour (leaving 2 tablespoons aside) and 30 g whole wheat flour;  mix with the dough hook on low speed, add 255 g beer and mix on low for another minute.

Let the mixture rest, covered, for 20 minutes then sprinkle on 8 g salt and knead on medium speed for 7 minutes.  If the dough feels a little sticky, add in some of the 2 tablespoons of flour that were set aside for that very purpose.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let the dough rise until doubled, about 1.5-2 hours.  Alternatively, you can place the dough in the fridge overnight, which is what I did.  It helps develop the flavor even more.

On baking day I let the dough rise for a good 2-2.5 hours since it was cold coming right out of the fridge.  Then I shaped a chubby boule, placed it on a parchment lined sheet pan, covered it with lightly oiled plastic wrap and gave it another 1.5-2 hours rise.

The baking process here involves creating as close to a hearth environment as possible.  Place a baking stone or 1/2 sheet pan on the lower oven rack and heat the oven to 450ºF, giving it a good 45-60 minutes of heating time.

In addition place a baking steel or cast iron pan on the oven floor which will be the receptacle for ice cubes that are thrown in when the bread goes into the oven.  This creates a burst of steam, leading to a beautiful crust.

NOTE: in my case I have a tray that slides right onto the under surface of the oven rack that serves as a receptacle for water or ice when doing steam baking.  Pretty nice!

Slash the dough in a pattern of choice and place it on it's sheet pan directly onto the hot sheet pan already in the oven. Toss 1/2 cup ice cubes onto the hot steel/cast iron and close the door!

Bake for 15 minutes, reduce the oven temp to 400 and bake an additional 30-40 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

The aroma was heavenly, making it very difficult to wait until cooled to taste this baby. But wait we did and it was well worth it.

Yay!  A crusty crust along with a tight, yet soft and oh-so-delectable crumb with a flavor reminiscent of molasses. So delicious! 

This one's a keeper.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Peace to all

Champs Élysées  December, 2006

It's a day to gather with family and friends or to simply relax and enjoy this holiday time of year.

Wishing you peace and, of course, many delicious baking adventures for 2017.  Yes indeed.

Merry, merry from The French Tarte!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Apricot orange cake with pistachio crumble

How often do you buy an ingredient with a specific project in mind, only to have that ingredient languish on the shelf or in the fridge waiting to be used?  Fortunately, that doesn't happen too frequently, but, every now and then it's a good idea to see what's on hand, both in the fridge and the freezer, and figure out ways to use up things that are either nearing the end of their shelf life or are begging to be baked into something delicious.

This time - dried apricots and yogurt with unbaked pistachio crumble on the side.

Here I opted for a variation on a recipe for orange currant muffins with pistachio crumb.  I've had this recipe in my files for some time now, not even sure where I found it.  It calls for sour cream, for which I substituted yogurt, and currants, which I replaced with diced dried apricots.

Here goes!

Heat the oven to 325ºF.  Butter a medium loaf pan, line it with parchment and butter the parchment as well.

It's a straight forward batter.

In a separate bowl whisk together 1 1/2 cups/195 g all purpose flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the paddle, cream 5 TBSP/70 g unsalted butter with 1/2 cup/105 g sugar until light and fluffy; blend in 1 large egg; blend in 3/4 cup yogurt and 2 teaspoons orange zest.

Add the dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated; fold in 1/2 cup diced dried apricots.  The batter will be thick.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan.

Top with a healthy layer of pistachio crumble made by combining equal weights flour and sugar, then sanding in the same weight of cold, diced butter to coarse crumbs and adding 1/2 the same weight of chopped pistachios.  You choose your quantities and make plenty to have extra for your freezer.

Bake for approximately 45 minutes until the top is browned and a skewer inserted in the center comes out cleanly.

After about 10 minutes lift the cake out and let cool. 

Slice and enjoy!

I simply couldn't wait until this had completely cooled.  The still warm, fruit studded, moist, pistachio crumbly and oh-so-delicious slice was just the thing for a middle-of-a-winter-afternoon snack.

And guess what - Steve liked it too!!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Shortbread gift boxes for the holidays

Here it is - only 8 days left until Christmas!  It's definitely winter here in Michigan with a number of inches of snow on the ground and more in the offing.  Brrrrr cold too!

I've been busy baking and packaging my assorted shortbread cookies at Patricia's Chocolate shop in Grand Haven.

There's a miniature version of the shortbread bar, reminiscent of my days at Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket RI, from which customers can choose their favorite flavors for simple packaging in small bags.

And then there's a small display table for the gift boxes with signage compliments of Paul Christopher, Patricia's husband and graphics guru.  What a talent!

It's a whirlwind of activity at the shop this time of year, and Patty keeps everything under control with her ever steady presence and attention to detail.

You should check it out!  Patricia's Chocolate at 126 Washington Ave, Grand Haven MI. You'll be happy you did.


Friday, November 25, 2016

Daily bread and giving thanks

Thanksgiving Day has passed yet we must remember that everyday is a day to give thanks.  I have much for which to be thankful. My husband and best friend Steve has weathered another assault on his body, undergoing a successful cardiac catheterization and stenting procedure two days before the Thanksgiving holiday.  He was discharged to home on the day itself, allowing us to spend a very relaxing and quiet day together without the hustle and bustle of large gatherings, lots of food (probably too much) and perhaps feeling rather drained at the end of it all.

Please don't misunderstand me - being with family and friends is ever so important, but this year it was good to simply be at home.  After all - home is where the heart is, eh?

For me the day begged for bread baking.  What better way to spend a dreary, chilly and rainy Thanksgiving afternoon than baking one of the staples of life.  Let us break bread together.

This one was compliments of King Arthur Flour's monthly bake along recipe for October - "everyday whole-grain bread" - and was also my first foray into using their white whole wheat flour.  I've been a huge King Arthur fan for some years now and have used their flours for all my baking.  I love their "field to flour" approach which focuses on identifying the source of the grains used in their flours.  Good stuff.

My intention here is not to spell out the recipe for you, but to relish in the process of bread making.  The mixing and kneading of the dough, the feel of the dough after the first rise, the tactile experience of shaping the dough and placing it in the pan for the second rise.  It's all so satisfying!

This one is a straight forward direct dough - mix and knead, bulk rise, shape, pan up for the second rise then bake.  Yay!

The end result was a dense crumbed, tasty slice of white whole wheat bread that is delicious toasted and topped with PB and J or a perfect slice of cheese -whatever one might imagine.  

Happy Thanksgiving weekend everyone.  And don't forget to break bread with those you love.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A free form savory tart

As I anticipated the end-of-the-fall-session gathering of my weekly French class, I considered what I should bring as a contribution to the fête. I was in the mood for something savory - it just seemed right for this time of year.

I had puff pastry in my freezer so out it came to thaw.  I then embarked on the course of creating a free form puff pastry base.

The beauty of this approach is that you can create any shape or size to fit your mood as well as the number of people you plan to serve.

In my case I planned to cut the finished product into appetizer size portions, so I made a simple rectangle of about 4" x 8" and had plenty of dough to cut narrow strips, braid them and create a lovely border look.

I had autumn veggies on the brain and recalled the vol-au-vent filled with a mix of roasted butternut squash, caramelized onion and goat cheese from a puff pastry class I taught at the Grand Rapids downtown market last fall.  Yes, that's it!

First I baked the puff base solo (425º for about 20 minutes) and set it aside while preparing the filling.  The center puffs up quite a bit, but I simply push it down gently to allow some space for the filling.

NOTE:  this approach is best when using a filling that will already be cooked through since the whole thing will just require warming up once assembled.

I tossed a couple of cups of chunked butternut squash with some olive oil, rosemary, herbes de provence, salt and pepper and roasted them at 450º for about 25 minutes.

I mixed the caramelized onion I had prepared earlier with the squash, piled it onto the baked puff, topped it with crumbled goat cheese and popped it into a 350º oven for about 15 minutes just to warm the whole thing up.

As a final garnish, some roasted pepitas and toasted walnut pieces went on top.

The end result was a delicious combo of buttery, flaky puff and herbed veggie filling with the added crunch of pumpkin seeds and nuts.

Yes - a lovely fall treat.

So put your thinking cap on and imagine of all the wonderful combos you can create!