Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Some new flour ingredients



Thanks to my recent discovery of Alice Medrich's book "Flavor Flours", I've been playing around with recipes using a variety of alternative flours - and I've only begun to scratch the surface.

They happen to be gluten free, although that was not the primary reason for my experiments.  I'm intrigued by the many options now available to both the baking and pastry enthusiast and pastry professional.  Always learning, always testing, always trying new things.  That's what it's all about!

First off - coconut flour.

This recipe is for a tart crust, and it is, in a word, DEElicious - very reminiscent of the quintessential American coconut macaroon.

It's easy to put together.  Combine 40 g coconut flour, 100 g shredded unsweetened coconut, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 85 g soft unsalted butter, 100 g sugar and 1 large egg white in a bowl.  Mix until the ingredients are blended then press evenly into a 9" fluted, removable bottom tart pan, making the sides thicker than the bottom.


Heat your oven to 350ºF, set the lined tart pan on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake 18-20 minutes until nicely browned.


Let cool for 15 minutes or so then push the bottom up to free the crust from the pan and loosen the sides. Finish cooling for 2 hours before filling.


Now here's where I leave the filling up to you.  

I filled mine with coconut pastry cream made by replacing the whole milk in my standard recipe with coconut milk - yum.  Then you have the option of topping the tart with mango slices, mixed tropical fruits, mixed berries or whatever your heart desires.

Or how about a nice chocolate ganache filling topped with a sprinkling of toasted coconut?

Or fill the crust with some toasted, chopped nuts of choice mixed with some homemade caramel then cover with a whipped milk chocolate cream.

Or perhaps a luscious lemon-lime curd with some finely diced crystallized ginger?

You decide.

Next up - oat and rice flour.  This one is an oat sablé recipe (and you know I'm a sucker for shortbread!).


Whisk together 140 g oat flour, 55 g white rice flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon baking soda in a large bowl. Add 130 g sugar, 60 g chunked up cream cheese, 170 g chunked up soft butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and mix with a fork or spatula to blend into a smooth dough.

Form two logs about 1.5 inches in diameter (or whatever diameter you wish), wrap tightly in wax paper or film wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.  You may also freeze the dough for up to 3 months.

First I did the log approach.  I sliced rounds and baked at 325ºF for 12-15 minutes until nicely browned.



The cookies did spread a bit, something I'm suspect has to do with the difference in structure of a non-gluten dough. Plus the ratio of sugar to the total flour is higher than my typical shortbread and could also contribute to more spread during baking.  It's a learning curve to be sure.

Next I took a portion of dough, formed small nuggets and baked those.


They had a more faceted look and were rather pleasing in the small-bite sense of the word.

These are GOOD - a nice crunch, butteriness and delicious flavor all the way around. Yes.

And now - teff! 

An ancient Ethiopian grain, teff is loaded with calcium, iron, Vitamin C, fiber, protein and more.

I chose a chocolate sablé recipe for my first trial with this healthy and interesting ingredient. I know - more shortbread.


Place 150 g teff flour, 60 g white rice flour, 35 g unsweetened cocoa powder, 135 g sugar, scant 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon baking soda in a large bowl and whisk to blend.

Add 170 g unsalted chunked up soft butter, 60 g chunked up cream cheese, 1 tablespoon water and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract to the dry ingredients and mix with a fork or spatula until blended into a smooth dough.

You can form logs as with the oat sablés but I chose to wrap and chill the dough then simply form rough ball shaped pieces sprinkled with a little sugar. I placed them on a parchment lined sheet pan and held them in the freezer while the oven was heating.


Heat your oven to 325ºF and bake for about 25 minutes until firm to the touch.  While it's hard to tell if they've browned, I found they looked more dry with a bit of cracking on the surface as a reasonable sign that they were done.


These babies did not disappoint!  Nice chocolate flavor, a texture with just a hint of fine graininess (not a bad thing, by the way), plus deliciously crisp and buttery. And Steve liked them too!

"Flavor Flours" is divided into sections by type of flour, including not only the ones I've used so far, but also chestnut, sorghum, buckwheat, corn and nut flours.

There is definitely another world out there folks! Here's to new tastes and textures. Yes indeed.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

New York style bagels


After teaching several bagel classes recently I was gung-ho to make my own New York style bagels at home.  Chewy, molasses-y and yummy.

The process is pretty straight forward.  Make the dough, let it rise, divide the dough, shape the bagels, let 'em rest a bit, boil 'em, egg wash and top 'em, then bake them in the oven for the finale.

All in an afternoon's work.

Following the Sur La Table recipe for 8 bagels, combine 500 g bread flour and 1 tablespoon salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook.  Mix briefly to combine.

In a separate bowl place 1.5 cups warm water and sprinkle in 2 teaspoons active dry yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar.  Let stand for 5 minutes until the yeast starts to foam.  Add in 2 tablespoons barley malt syrup and stir to dissolve (see note).

NOTE: since I didn't have barley malt syrup on hand I substituted 4 teaspoons molasses at 2/3 the quantity.  

With the mixer on low add the yeast mixture to the flour/salt and mix to combine.  Then knead the dough on medium speed for 6-8 minutes until smooth and elastic. The dough is a bit sticky.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and allow it to rise in a warm spot for about an hour (until doubled).

after the rise

Now comes the fun part!  Shaping - yes! 

Before you start, get the oven heating to 425ºF convection (450 conventional).

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, deflate lightly and divide with a bench scraper into 8 pieces.


Shape each piece into a smooth, tight ball.  This step is the most fun, especially once you get the feel of the dough as it rounds up and develop the muscle memory in your hand to make it happen.  You gotta be there to understand it.


OK, so maybe THIS step is really the most fun - forming the bagel.

First stick your thumb through the center.


Once the hole is formed, place your index and middle fingers through it and rotate to stretch out the hole to about 2 inches.


This is just one of the ways to shape a bagel. The other involves rolling each piece into a snake, bringing the ends together in an overlapping fashion, then putting your fingers through the center, palm down, with the overlap on the work surface and rolling to seal.

Once the bagels are shaped, place them on a lightly floured surface, cover with a damp cloth and let them rest about 10 minutes.


Meanwhile, bring about 4 quarts of water to a boil, adding about 3 tablespoons barley malt syrup (or in my case, about 2 tablespoons molasses).

Drop the shaped and rested bagels into the boiling water and boil for a minute on each side.


Lift them out with a slotted spoon and place on a grid to drip a bit, then brush with egg wash and sprinkle with topping(s) of choice.  I chose sesame seeds for some and left the rest plain at Steve's request.  

Have a sheet pan ready lined with parchment and sprinkled with cornmeal.


Now pop 'em into the oven and bake for about 20 minutes until nicely browned.  

ATTENTION! Don't open the oven for the first 10 minutes. The initial steam produced by the wet bagels as they go into the hot oven contributes to the crusty exterior.  Plus I'm told that if you open the oven too soon, your bagels may deflate a bit.  Oh no!

But DO rotate your pan after the first 10 minutes to get a nice even bake. It's a rule I follow regularly, no matter what I'm baking.


Looking good.


Let these babies cool, then slice right in and enjoy.  I decided for a simple cheddar cheese on mine.



The chew, crumb and molasses essence of this was soooo good.  Yes indeed.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

A tasty trio for spring

A beautiful day at Fredrick Meijer Gardens here in Grand Rapids Michigan.  Spring is here. Delightful.


And now on to the baking portion of the program.


While I was preparing some sweet treats for a recent L'Alliance Francaise de Grand Rapids event, I was reminded of those days working as the pastry chef at Gracie's in Providence RI where I often created dessert trios for special events or private dinners.  I loved that. Three 2-bite experiences of different textures, creams, crunchies, fruits, nuts or what-have-you. No need to over do it - just some delicious little somethings to go with that after dinner coffee, tea or digestif - yes indeed.


For this menu I choose a petite apricot almond Breton cake topped with apricot caramel mascarpone cream and fresh raspberry, a delectable fudgy brownie with chocolate-graham-walnut crumble sprinkled over a ganache ribbon and my own sesame-cardamom shortbread cookie sandwiched with an orange honey buttercream. 


In this case it's not about a specific recipe or technique but simply the imagination of putting different flavors and textures together.  The more one bakes, the more one opens the mind to new ideas.

Interestingly, that's what I've found since teaching at Sur La Table here in Grand Rapids.  The recipes are chosen by the corporation and tested in the SLT test kitchen before being put on a nationwide schedule that's offered to the public.

Lots of croissant and French macaron classes to be sure, but every month or two some new topics pop up like crepes, soufflés and British baking, all of which prompt me to review and refresh my own knowledge and expertise.  It's all about learning! Plus I love figuring out what the problems might be when something doesn't turn out as expected. Keep trying!

So I've been doing things that haven't been in my typical scope of baking - Swiss meringue buttercream being one of them. Many of the macaron fillings for SLT classes are made using that technique with the flavors and fillings changing seasonally.  I had previously not been a big fan of buttercreams, yet having now made a number of Swiss meringue versions I find them quite appealing.  

There are many cake makers out there who do this in their sleep and many online resources presenting the process and all the delicious flavor variations that exist.

But just to review, a Swiss meringue is made by whisking egg whites and sugar over a bain marie to a temperature or 145º - 155ºF, then transferring it to a stand mixer and whipping to a nice glossy, stiff-peaked meringue.  Voila!



The meringue should be cool before adding the butter a few pieces at a time. The result should be a smooth, creamy buttercream.

I my case I blended orange zest and honey into the buttercream, and it was oh so wonderful with the lightly honey glazed sesame cardamom shortbread. Yum yum yum.


Of course, let's not forget that there's a lot of butter involved so my "everything in moderation" approach still applies, but somehow the meringue and butter combo is quite lovely as a filling for a cookie sandwich or a swirl on the top of a petite cake.


As for the petite Breton cakes, I used a standard Breton dough recipe from Christophe Felder, placed pieces of dough into round flexi-molds, topped 'em with almond cream, a dollop of apricot jam and a sprinkling of brown sugar streusel.  

After the bake, once cooled, I gave them a swirl of caramel mascarpone cream to which I had added some home made apricot purée, and topped 'em with a fresh raspberry.



The brownie bites were the recipe I've been making for Steve for some years, based on one from Fine Cooking magazine by Abigail Johnson way back when.  I gave them a ganache ribbon topping and sprinkled my chocolate-graham crumb- walnut crumble mixture on top. Yup.


All were delicious, delightful and appreciated by L'Alliance Française guests.

The moral of the story?  Use your imagination and keep creating your own flavorful treats! That's what it's all about.

Happy spring!


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter desserts, happy spring and one more chocolate babka


Happy Easter everyone.  Steve and I are in our second spring since our move back to Grand Rapids, and this has been the first burst of color in our little garden two years in a row.  The lovely primrose - ahhhhhhh.  

Our day began misty, windy and overcast and is winding down with glorious sunshine, lovely breezes and no humidity.  We'll take it, thank you very much.

We spent the afternoon with the Galloway and TenHave clan for a delicious Easter dinner and good conversation and companionship.  Thanks Scott and Jen - you're the best!

Of course I simply had to make dessert for the gathering, and what better flavor to choose than something lusciously LEMON.  


I turned to that tried and true (and now my favorite tarte au citron) recipe from Jacques Genin, topping it with a thin layer of crème Chantilly and some fresh raspberries.



A good lemon tart is one of THE best things in the pastry world à mon avis, but I wanted to throw something else into the mix for the holiday meal.  I'd been thinking about coconut and chocolate and ended up following Alice Medrich's coconut chocolate meringue recipe in her book "Flavor Flours" (a recent and exciting discovery for me). What better way to use up some of those egg whites I had sitting in the fridge.


Make a basic meringue, taking it to stiff peaks.


Fold in a delightful mixture of chopped dark and white chocolate, coarsely chopped roasted, lightly salted almonds and coconut chips (the smaller bowl below is for sprinkling on the top of the scooped meringues).



Portion out generous tablespoons of meringue mixture onto parchment lined sheets, then sprinkle additional chocolate/nut/coconut mix on top.


Bake at 200ºF for 1.5 hours, then turn oven off and let cool completely.



Crispy, crunchy, nutty with almonds and coconut, chocolate chunks - what more does one need in a bite size treat? These are downright tasty.

I declare this a winning dessert day - yay!

But before I go, here's one final note. 

Just when you thought you'd heard the end of the whole babka thing, I'll finish up with one more experience with that oh-so-intriguing subject.  I baked one more babka the other day as part of a trial for an Easter class I was preparing to teach at the Breton Sur La Table here in Grand Rapids.  The process went well, the dough felt great, the plaits looked pretty good (in spite of a bit of messiness with the chocolate filling), and it went into the pan without much of a hitch.


It baked a bit longer than I expected but came out a deep golden brown and smelling heavenly.


The swirls were okey-dokey when sliced too.


And you know what? Delicious.



I promise that's it for this year's babka session. Enough.

Happy spring everyone and thanks for reading "Baking with The French Tarte". I appreciate it more than you'll ever know.



Monday, April 10, 2017

Babka trial Part 3 - another chocolate pecan


Well, I have another babka trial under my belt, and I have to say I'm excited about moving on to other baking adventures. I've learned a lot but feel there are still more practice sessions in my distant future before getting this down to a tried and true comfortable process.  If at first you don't succeed, try, try again - so true!

Granted, I used several different dough recipes in my various trials, so I can't say this is a purely scientific study with all variables constant. What I did accomplish was gaining a general understanding of how the process should go.

Here are just a few tidbits that I gleaned from my experience.

I found that the dough for babka can be a standard sweet dough (as one might use for cinnamon rolls), a laminated dough or a brioche-like dough. As they say, there's more than one way to skin a cat!

I discovered that the chocolate filling (if that's the version you're making) should be made ahead so there is time for the melted chocolate/butter with added cocoa powder and sugar mixture to cool to a room temperature spreadable paste.


I learned that there are many ways to shape babka - the length-wise sliced log plaited and tucked into a loaf pan or baked free form, a fat snake-like coiled log that sits in the pan perpendicular to the counter rather than lying flat or a log placed circularly around a tube or Bundt pan.

What I'm still working on grasping is how loosely or snugly to twist the plaits, the best way to fit them into the loaf pan, how long to let the loaf rise and how long to bake (it's very difficult to determine when the center is fully baked).

For this my third and last trial I used Yotam Ottolenghi's brioche like dough. I baked two loaves, one the classic plait which I placed into the pan like an "S" to try and give the dough enough room to rise and not be too squished in.




For the second loaf I went with Peter Reinhart's option of twisting the log a bit, then coiling it up like a snail.


Then the snail goes into the pan straight up, not with the coil flat.


Kind of looks like a big old cow's tongue! This version gets egg wash and a streusel topping before going into the oven.

Reinhart's instructions have you press the coil down to compress it into a loaf, but I didn't want to press down too hard, thinking the rise of the dough layers would be impaired.

I gave both of these loaves a three hour warmish rise since I wasn't certain my previous rises were long enough. Perhaps it makes a difference which type of dough one is using too.

Interestingly, of the many recipes I reviewed the recommended rising times (in a "warm" place) varied from 1-1.5 hours up to 3 hours. Some stated the dough wouldn't rise more than 10-20% and some wanted the dough to puff up and fill the pan.

I thought my plaited loaf became appropriately puffy, at least according to the 10-20% rise benchmark.


I had my doubts about the snail coil, but it seemed to have reached that 10-20% goal too, even though it was not filling the pan.  I suspect the rise I saw this time around had to do with the brioche type dough I used.


The snail coil received its wash and streusel.


I baked the plait for 45-50 minutes at 350º convection.  I attempted to check an internal dough temperature which reached over 185º but couldn't be sure if my temperature probe was in dough or chocolate.  When tapping the dough on the surface, it had a nice thump, and my inserted skewer came out clean. Out of the oven it came.


I baked the snail for the same amount of time and took it out after a resounding thump was heard when tapping the top and a 185º internal temperature was reached.


Let's hope for the best.

After a good cooling it was time for slicing.

First the plaited loaf.


Not bad! In spite of some chocolate gaps and a bit of doughy-ness in the bottom layers, this was delicious!!  Funny that even when the bake wasn't all that great, all of my attempts were tasty, tasty, tasty.

The streusel snail loaf had a big hollow pocket under the surface and the bottom thinner layers were under baked.  But again, joy of all joys - DELICIOUS!


While Steve enjoyed the fruits of my labor, he wondered why I spent so much time on this project. I say "why not?!".  It's a challenge and fun to boot.

What's next? I just started reading Alice Medrich's book "Flavor Flours" and am intrigued with learning and experimenting with the different non-wheat flours out there.  So much to do.  

But before that I have to decide what to bake for Easter dessert. Oh boy!