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!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Gâteau au yaourt and an interesting French measure

A few weeks ago our British friends, Richard and Pauline, came to Michigan for a visit.  They were kind enough to present me with a small gift - a new baking book!  It's in French (which is great practice for me) and is entitled DESSERTS de notre enfance.  Chock full of classic French cakes, tarts and childhood treats, it soon had me making a list of the goodies I'd like to try.


One recipe that caught my attention was gâteau au yaourt, not so much for its subject but for the method of measurement - a pot de yaourt!  And to top it all off, I had some yogurt in the fridge that needed to be used up.

 pots de yaourt measurements
After further research I learned that this is a very familiar and popular childhood French cake often served for le gouter (afternoon snack time) or for breakfast.  It's also one of the first cakes French kids learn to make - so easy!

So I asked myself - "how much is actually in a pot de yaourt?"  Off I went to the trusty internet and found that the majority of pots de yaourt sold in France hold 125 grams.  I also found a couple of sources that gave me some of the comparable weights and measures for one of these pots:  liquid volume 125 ml; sugar 125 gm; flour 85 gm; rice 125 gm just to name a few.

It took me back to baking books from days of yore in which a recipe might instruct using a "juice glass" or a "coffee cup" as standard measures.  And so it is with the French - perhaps un verre of something or a noisette de beurre is called for; or a c.à.s. (cuillère à soupe) or c.à.c. (cuillère à café), both standard size spoons (akin to our tablespoon and teaspoon) that are typically found in the average kitchen.

But before moving on to making the gâteau au yaourt I had to do a little testing of my own using a 5.3 oz/150gm container of cherry yogurt.  I played around, separately weighing liquid, sugar and flour in the clean and dry container, then did a little math to compare what similar weights would be in a 125 gm yogurt container.  They came out pretty darn close to the figures I had discovered on line (don't worry - I won't bore you with the details).

Now let's make gâteau au yaourt!  Since I don't have all my baking pans with me in Michigan yet, I rummaged around in Mom's cabinets and found the two different sized loaf pans she's used for many years, from meat loaf to banana bread.  I knew my batter would weigh about 780 gm, so I checked the pan volumes by weighing water in them.  That confirmed for me that the larger of the two pans (see photo below) was just the ticket - the batter would have overflown the smaller pan.  The pan I ended up using is not typical of the standard loaf pans one finds these days.  It's longer, narrower and straight-sided - very nice in fact.

Mom's longer, narrower loaf pan

The gâteau couldn't be simpler.  Butter and flour a medium loaf pan and heat the oven to 350º.

les ingredients
In a medium bowl mix the dry ingredients:  2 pots de yaourt of sugar  (equal to 250 gm, although I decreased it to 225 gm, similar to my standard cup of sugar); 3 pots de yaourt of flour (equal to 255 gm which I rounded up to 260 gm or 2 cups); 2 teaspoons baking powder; 1/2 tsp kosher salt.

In another medium bowl whisk together the wet ingredients:  one pot de yaourt (125 gm, although I used the full 150 gm of my cherry yogurt - figured the extra bit would add moisture to the cake); 2 large eggs; un demi-pot de yaourt  (63 gm or 1/4 cup) of vegetable oil and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, pour the liquid mixture in and gently incorporate all with a spatula.

wet on dry

Fill the prepared loaf pan . . .

ready for the oven

 and bake approximately 50-55 minutes.  Smelling good!

just out of the oven

Cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes then turn out onto the cooling rack to cool completely.

The end result had a nice crispy exterior and the cake had a good heft to it.

Upon slicing it's easy to appreciate the dense crumb.

The flavor was very pleasant, having the nuance of the cherries from the yogurt; the texture was definitely that of a pound cake.

Steve, Mom and I enjoyed it with some Talenti vanilla bean gelato - not a bad way to wind out a hot and muggy Saturday night.

It's summer after all!

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!