Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Kouign-amann pudding

Now here's a good one - essentially a bread pudding made with leftover Kouign-amann.  What?!

Of course some might argue that once Kouign-amann are made they'll be gobbled up and there won't BE any leftovers.

Not so in my case.  A couple of months ago I decided to make a batch of K-a, but, instead of baking them in open tart rings, I baked them in flexi-molds.  I thought it would lend itself to much easier release of the final baked goods from their sticky, caramelized holders.

Nuh-uh.  Because the dough was essentially "shielded" by the silicone molds, the K-a exteriors did not caramelize, the dough layers did not bake through and were pale and floppy.  It was a gooey mess.

Note to self: certain things bake and brown much better surrounded by metal.  Yup.

Some of the edges were actually OK and the flavor was there, so something wouldn't allow me to throw them all away and into the freezer they went.

After the holidays I was visiting Schuler Books here in Grand Rapids, looking of course at baking books, and was excited to find a recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Baking Bible (with Kouign-amann on the front cover no less) for "souffled French toast".

It uses day-old K-a baked in an egg, milk, cream, vanilla custard.  What's not to like.

I removed 480 grams of K-a from the freezer some hours ahead and let them thaw at room temperature.  Notice the misshapen K-a lumps in the photo below.

notice the doughy interior layers

Cut the K-a into cubes and place them in an 8"x8" glass baking dish.

Mix 6 large eggs, 160 ml heavy cream, 60 ml whole milk and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Pour the custard over the K-a, cover and soak the mélange in the fridge over night.

ready for an overnight soak

Heat the oven to 350º F.  Bake covered with foil for 10 minutes, then remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes or until the pudding is puffed, set and nicely browned.

We ate this for dessert au naturale, still slightly warm (when it's at its best, by the way).

I can just imagine it topped with a little chantilly cream, a drizzle of maple syrup and some fresh berries, either for dessert or for breakfast or brunch.  YUM.

So now you know what you can do with those leftover or not-so-perfect Kouign-amanns that you just might have lying around.

Thanks Rose.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Coffee cardamom shortbread

A new shortbread recipe.  Yay!

Cardamom is a spice I haven't used very often.  This tasty version of my favorite type of cookie is from Samantha Seneviratne's book the new sugar and spice - a recipe for bolder baking.  She provides great descriptions of the origins, uses and storage of various spices.

Samantha tells us that "Native to India, green cardamom, Elettaria cardamomum, is the fruit of an herbaceous perennial bush of the ginger family".  The pods are harvested and dried, and the dark brown seeds found inside are ground for culinary use, either savory cooking or baking.

It is generally recommended that one buy whole cardamom pods which have a much longer shelf life than ground cardamom.  Remove the seeds from the pods and grind only what you'll need for a particular recipe, since once the cardamom is ground it will lose some of its fresh flavor and pungency.

I remember one of the chefs I used to work with at Gracie's restaurant in Providence RI always toasted the cardamom pods first to bring out the flavor even more.

Samantha recommends using a light or medium roast coffee, so I chose Starbucks Veranda blend.  I ordered my green cardamom from Spice Jungle, the same folks who run Beanilla, my favorite source for vanilla beans, extract and vanilla fleur de sel.

One thing I noticed right away as I read through the recipe was the higher ratio of butter to flour than most typical shortbreads.  I was intrigued.

Let's go!

First I toasted the 20 pods which, according to the recipe, were to yield about a teaspoon of seeds or 2 teaspoons freshly ground cardamom.

Then I removed the seeds from the pods . . . .

and ground them in my spice grinder with 2 teaspoons of the Verona blend coffee.

The process is a bit fussy but not a problem if the result is a freshly ground spice with maximum flavor!

les ingredients

In a medium-large bowl whisk together the ground coffee/cardamom mixture (seen in the forefront on the left in the above photo), 33 grams/1/3 cup confectioners sugar, 50 grams/1/4 cup dark brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 162 grams/1.25 cups all purpose flour (seen on the right above).

Samantha adds the 169 grams/3/4 cup unsalted butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and beats with an electric mixer on medium speed until the butter is blended in.

I chose to sand the butter in by hand and realized just how buttery this dough is.  Oh boy.

Press the dough into the pan (9" fluted tart or springform pan in the book - I chose my rectangular straight sided tart mold simply because I like it).

Freeze for about 15 minutes.  It firms up and stabilizes the butter.

Heat the oven to 325º F.

pressed into the tart mold and chilled for baking

Bake for about 40-45 minutes.  The dough should look dry and be nicely browned.

Oh the aroma!

just out of the oven

While the shortbread is still warm cut it into shapes of choice.  I like the baton size so I cut down the middle long ways and then cut narrow strips.

lettin' em cool

The flavor is unique yet scrumptious, offering notes of citrus and spice, and I can appreciate a certain gingery warmth.  The texture is crisp yet tender with a buttery crumb.  A keeper.

Steve even liked them.

Yes indeed.  Thanks Samantha.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Vanilla wafers for Liam

Happy winter everyone!

Recently we hosted my niece Christina and her family during their short visit to Grand Rapids on route from Hawaii to Lille, France where they will be living for the next couple of years.  Yay! Trip opportunity for us!!

Prior to their arrival I asked Christina if there were certain things she'd like to have in the house for the children to eat.  Kiera, age 9 - string cheese; Liam, age 4 - vanilla wafers.

In a recent post I wrote about making my own graham crackers, and the fact that Liam loves vanilla wafers inspired me to give them a try.  I prefer avoiding much of the mass produced stuff in the grocery store, particularly if high fructose corn syrup is involved (it's in the "Nilla Wafer" ingredient list).

I searched online and found an Alton Brown recipe that looked pretty straight forward (and tasty).  You can easily find it by googling "Alton Brown's vanilla wafers" - yes sirree!

The dough was easy to mix - cream butter and vanilla sugar; add egg and blend; blend in vanilla extract and a little milk; blend in flour, baking powder, salt to incorporate.  Then chill the dough for 10 minutes (or longer if your schedule demands it).

Scoop teaspoon balls of dough onto parchment lined sheet pans . . . .

then flatten the balls a bit with the palm of your hand . . . .

ready for the oven

and bake at 350º for about 18 minutes until golden brown.

Side note:  in the photo above you can see a log of dough adjacent to the sheet pan.  I decided to shape that and freeze it for later.  It will be interesting to see how the thinly sliced log cookies bake up.

c'est fini!

While these may not have the smooth surface and well defined edges of the store bought variety, they are tasty indeed.  I describe them as subtly pleasant with vanilla and a hint of salt on the tongue.  The texture reminds me of animal crackers.

I offered one to Liam as a taste test - he took one a bit hesitantly, took a bite and pronounced it good.  Off he went, but a couple of minutes later back he came with "may I have another cookie?".  Yup - they were a hit!!

From now on these will be known as Liam's vanilla "wayers" as he calls them - what a cutie!

Homemade is pretty much always best.

Oh - I made some pear financier that day too - one of Steve's faves.

always a treat

Now it's time to ramp up with some new recipes over the next several weeks.  Can't wait!

Ciao for now and happy baking.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Beet sugar vs cane sugar - live and learn!

Here's a quick tip - pay attention to what the granulated sugar package in your grocery store aisle tells you!  If it doesn't specify CANE sugar it's most likely BEET and, it turns out, the two can behave very differently.

I thought I was quite attentive to that little detail when buying sugar at my local MEIJER store, but, just the other day I realized that their largest line of granulated sugar is actually beet sugar.  Heretofore I don't recall that was actually printed on the bag - but now it is.  Turns out the purple and white Meijer brand bags of granulated sugar are actually beet sugar, while the green and white bags clearly state CANE sugar.

Why am I bringing this up, you might ask?

Since we've been living in Grand Rapids MI I've made a couple of batches of my favorite caramel sauce, a staple I always like to have on hand in my fridge and a recipe I've made many, many times. While it appeared that the sugar cooking process proceeded normally to the medium-dark amber stage, once I added my cream, a little butter and a good pinch of vanilla fleur de sel and chilled the caramel in the fridge, weird things started happening.

The caramel turned a paler tan color and had chunks (and I mean CHUNKS) of crystallized sugar in it - not a pretty picture!  I had to warm it up to try and dissolve the chunks or strain them out, but the stuff still was not the same as my usual deep brown, rich, tasty caramel sauce.

So I finally went on line and found my answer - beet sugar caramelizes differently.  I won't go into the various scientific explanations, but, suffice it to say, I learned my lesson.  I'll be sure to pay very close attention to the sugar package labeling from now on.

what a difference!

I should note that you shouldn't be too concerned about beet vs. cane when doing every day baking like many cookies, brownies, quick breads and more, for many folks won't notice any difference in flavor.  In fact, I made a batch of Steve's favorite brownies just the other day, using the (at the time unrecognized) beet sugar, and they came out just fine and dandy!

FYI - two cane sugar brands available here in GR are Domino and C&H.

So here's to paying attention to the little things!

Monday, January 4, 2016

A pastry year in review and looking ahead

Wow!  It's already January 4 (one of Steve's favorite lines after the new year is "this year is flying by!), and I'm excited about a couple of recently purchased pastry books, compliments of a Schuler's gift certificate from my book lover husband.

Here's a little new-book-preview before I look back at some of the favorite things that I baked in 2015.

Dominique Ansel's The Secret Recipes caught my eye, not because of his cronut fame, but because he shares the history of his pastry profession as well as some of his innovative recipes.  I've just started working my way through the book, and I'm already inspired.

Samantha Seneviratne's the new sugar & spice spoke to me since I'm always trying to think a bit outside the box when it comes to spices and flavor combos.  And her stories of family life in Sri Lanka only serve to enhance the collection of recipes that focus on specific spices such as cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, pepper and more.

And so I look forward to plunging into some new baking adventures.

The cover recipe of Samantha's book is first on my list - pistachio and chocolate butter cake.  Of course I must get some cardamom in the house!

Dominique's "magic soufflé" looks really interesting (and challenging) - brioche dough wrapped around a chocolate ganache filling - man oh man, that should be fun.  I love doing new things with brioche dough, so stay tuned folks!

Now here's a brief pictorial of some of the favorites from this past year.

Galette des rois . . . .

served with chantilly, toasted almonds, fresh citrus and caramel drizzle.

My first English muffins . . . .

served toasted with butter and jam.

Brioche craquelins . . . .

oh so citrusy and crunchy with a crumb to die for.

 Chocolate génoise entremet . . . .

Golden raisin toast apple tart . . . .

Millefeuille chocolat . . . .

 Tarte aux fruits rouge pistache. . . . 

Cannelés bordelais . . . .

Crunchy topped choux  . . . .

Rustic summer crostata . . . .

Gateau Breton . . . .

au naturale
and . . . .

avec crème d'amandes et confiture
Tea flavored shortbread . . . .

Thanksgiving citrus cream tart . . . .

And last but not least a Christmas coconut cream tart . . . .

But I simply can't sign off without a reminder of the perennial favorites . . . .

croissant et pain au chocolat

chausson aux pommes

croissant aux amandes


Here's to a fantastic year of baking and pastry for 2016!!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Homemade graham crackers and a coconut cream tart for Christmas

It's hard to believe that Christmas Day has come and gone.  Especially with the no-snow-on-the-ground, warm weather we've been having here in west Michigan.  The weeks leading up to Christmas always seem to fill up with various projects, activities and baking (of course!).  And then it's over and time for a new year.

our holiday table

chocolate pot de crème for Christmas Eve supper

spiced, candied nuts as an accompaniment

The other day when Steve and I were checking out Kingma's butcher counter looking for flank steak, we were also perusing the many aisles of food products.  There before my eyes was one of the largest selections of Bob's Red Mill flours that I have ever seen.  The one that caught my eye was graham flour and got me in the mood to make my own graham crackers in preparation for a graham cracker crusted coconut cream tart for Christmas Day.

This graham flour is ground from "hearty dark northern, hard red spring wheat" and "contains all of the wheat berry's healthy and natural elements - the germ, endosperm and bran".  It's good for you!

I first made my own graham crackers some years ago after paying closer attention to the ingredients on the boxes of "store bought" grahams.  I like to keep my baked goods as preservative free as possible and making these crackers at home is really an easy proposition.  So why not go for it?!

I think this recipe may have come from Elizabeth Falkner when she visited Johnson and Wales University in Providence a few years ago as a distinguished visiting chef.  It's a keeper.  I often write up recipes with gram weights and note things I might do differently the next time.  I keep them in plastic page sleeves that I then stash in my many recipe notebooks.

les ingredients

Heat the oven to 350º F.  Line two 1/2 sheet pans with parchment paper.

In a separate bowl whisk 180 grams graham flour with 98 grams all purpose flour and 3/4 teaspoon salt.

In a mixing bowl cream 56 g (2 oz) soft butter with 85 g sugar; add 1 large egg and mix until blended.

Stir in 4 tablespoons honey, followed by 1/2 teaspoon baking soda that's been dissolved in 2 teaspoons of water.

Blend in the dry ingredients.

The dough should hold together and be manageable.  If it's too sticky, add a bit more graham flour.

the finished dough

On a graham flour dusted surface roll the dough out to a thickness of about 2 mm. I work with about half the dough at a time.  It is a tad sticky, but just keep lightly dusting and lifting the dough with a bench scraper to keep it from sticking.

Since my plan for these grahams was to crush them for a graham cracker crust, I wasn't too fussy about how I cut and baked them.  You can certainly cut nice looking squares and even score them with a fork to give the quintessential graham cracker look if you're serving them as a traditional cracker.

ready for the oven

Bake for about 15 minutes and always remember to watch what's going on in your oven!

crisp and golden brown

My graham cracker crust calls for 140 grams (5 oz) of graham crackers so I weighed out what I needed and coarsely broke up the remaining crackers to put in my freezer for the next time.

I crushed the crackers for the crust with the old zip-top bag/rolling pin technique which eliminates having to get out the food processor (or cleaning it afterwards).  Love it!

This coconut cream tart recipe comes from the Baking Illustrated book by the editors of Cooks Illustrated magazine and calls for toasting unsweetened, shredded coconut for both the crust, the filling and the top garnish.  I did that a bit ahead.

crust ingredients

The above ingredients include the 140 grams crushed graham crackers, 2 tablespoons sugar, 70 grams (5 tablespoons) melted unsalted butter and 4 tablespoons of toasted coconut.  Simply mix it all with a fork and press it firmly into a tart pan.

Bake the crust at 325º F for about 20 minutes until fragrant and browned.

waiting for the filling

While the crust cools go ahead and make the coconut cream filling.

filling ingredients

The filling is prepared using a basic pastry cream method.  Place the contents of one 14 oz can of coconut milk in a sauce pan, along with 240 ml (one cup) of whole milk, 35 grams of toasted coconut, 75 grams sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Heat this to a simmer, stirring occasionally.  Meanwhile place 5 egg yolks in a separate bowl, whisk in 75 grams sugar and 28 grams cornstarch.

Gradually pour half of the hot milk mixture over the yolk mixture, whisking constantly, then return all to the sauce pan and cook, still whisking constantly until the mixture thickens and bubbles.

Take it off the heat and whisk in 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and 28 grams (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter.

Pour the cream directly into the baked crust, cover the surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours until chilled.

chilled tart ready for garnish

Whip up a cup of heavy cream with a splash of vanilla extract and a tablespoon or two of powdered sugar and spread it over the coconut cream filling.  I love to use my offset spatula to create a simple design.

nothing too fancy here folks!

Then sprinkle some toasted coconut on the top . . . .

and voila, you're ready to go!

Now it's time to take a breath, relax a bit and look ahead to a new year.