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!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Brioche feuilletée

I've been wanting to make this delectable version of brioche for some time now, and so it was that a recent online reference to Guy Savoy's new venture in Paris, Gout de Brioche, finally got me going. The shop offers individual as well as "grand" brioche feuilletée in a variety of flavors both savory and sweet. 

This particular dough is another in the family of laminated dough - puff pastry, croissant and Danish being the standards.  Here we have an egg enriched brioche dough which is put through similar laminating steps to create buttery, flaky layers of goodness.

It seems that every time I make brioche I look back at various recipes and compare ingredient amounts and ratios.  This time I reviewed the recipe from the Le Nôtre class that I attended in Paris during our recent September trip. Using it, as well as an online recipe attributed to Philippe Conticini of Pâtisserie des Rêves fame, I came up with my own version to launch my attempt at brioche feuilletée.

Brioche dough can be lean to rich and may contain amounts of butter that are anywhere from 20-80% of the quantity of flour in the recipe.  With the laminated approach one reduces the amount of butter in the basic dough but then uses a larger amount of butter for the butter block that becomes incorporated into the dough.

Here's the dough: 500 g flour (450 g all purpose and 50 g bread); 10 g salt; 50 g sugar; 8 g instant yeast; 90 ml whole milk; 250 g egg (about 5 large); 50 g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes.  

Place the flour, salt, sugar, yeast and milk in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix on low for a couple of minutes.  Add the eggs 1-2 at a time until each addition is incorporated.

Increase speed to medium and mix for 12-15 minutes until the dough is coming away from the sides of the bowl.  

Add the butter piece by piece until incorporated. The dough should be shiny, smooth and silky.

Turn the dough out into a lightly greased bowl, cover and let it rise for an hour.

Deflate the dough gently then cover snugly and put into the fridge for 4-5 hours or overnight.

Form a butter block with 340 g unsalted butter and hold it in the fridge overnight as well.

The following morning take the butter out to take the firm chill off and allow it to become more malleable for the beurrage et tourage.

At this point the process is the same as for croissant - envelope the butter and then put it through three single, or business letter, folds with 30 minute rests in between. Here's the first fold.

After the three folds give it a good hour rest in the fridge before rolling it out for its final use.

Take a look at my finished dough below - it felt great even though the butter isn't uniformly distributed in the dough. I pushed on nonetheless!  

Roll the dough out into an approximately 16"x13' rectangle.  At this point you can do any filling your little heart desires.  I opted for a simple mix of crushed raw sugar cubes with lemon zest which I sprinkled over the dough, leaving the upper edge clear.

Brush the upper edge with a little water, milk or egg wash to help seal the seam once you've rolled it up.

Now slice into twelve 1 1/4" slices.

You can tuck these, cut side up, into buttered standard muffin tins, but I decided to use lightly buttered panettone papers.

Let these rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours, depending on your ambient temperature.  They should look poufy with increased prominence of the laminations.

Heat the oven to 400ºF.  

Brush the tops with a bit of egg wash or milk and sprinkle with pearl sugar.

Bake for 10 minutes then decrease the temp to 350 for another 10-15 minutes until nicely browned.

Once cooled a bit I pulled them out of the baking papers and brushed the surface with lemon syrup.  I find that brioche often look a bit dry coming out of the oven and the syrup gives them a nice sheen.

They look a bit like a conch shell!  Or some kind of snail.  Some of them tried to rise up and escape from their houses, looking like a slinky going down the stairs.

Once a bit cooled it was definitely time for a taste test. In the photo below the smaller pieces in the background are a couple of end scraps that I baked separately, and the sliced brioche in the front is one that slink-ied out of its paper.

The thing that always strikes me about a good brioche is how LIGHT it is!  The eggs and the butter don't seem to weigh it down at all.  Although remember that an important part is making sure you give these babies a decent rise - if they don't rise long enough they'll end up heavy and dense.

The flavor and texture were just right and the lemon syrup gave these a nice little zing.  But next time I'd punch the lemon zest up even more.

I can't wait to try some other versions!  Yessiree!!

It's all about the journey.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Exciting news!

This past week The French Tarte became licensed to work out of the kitchen at Patricia's Chocolate in Grand Haven, Michigan.  Hooray!

What does this mean you might ask?  Well to start out I'll be baking and offering my tasty all butter shortbread in Patty's shop, accepting orders for shortbread gift boxes and developing a schedule of travel from GR to GH to dovetail with my teaching schedule at Sur La Table here in GR.

Shortbread bar

Taking it step by step.

In the meantime I wanted to share with you some of things I've been making in recent months.  

In early August, as I birthday present to myself, I baked an assortment of goodies (from left to right):  pavé aux amandes, cocoa hazelnut financiers, bubble eclairs with raspberry currant cream (Yum!) and chocolate milkshake tarts. 

By now many of you know my attraction to financiers and tarts.  What can I say?  I just can't help it!

Once we returned from our trip to France in early October, I've been back in the kitchen doing this and that as well as trying some new shortbread flavors (how about coffee cardamom, oatmeal ginger or coconut lime?!).

My baking activities often seem to revolve around what I happen to have in the fridge - some of my lightly spiced poached pears being just one example. What better than a batch of financier batter to create pear-caramel and raspberry-pistachio crumble versions for our freezer.

The pears also encouraged me to make some individual versions of tarte bourdaloue using the recipe that I had brought back from Le Notre in Paris.

Of course I simply can't forget the household favorite (hint, hint - guess what Steve loves?), the quintessential caramel nut tart.  This go around I used some chocolate tart dough that had been waiting in the freezer for that very thing.

Chock full-o-nuts, oh-so-delicious and always a hit.

And for something just a little different - bagels!  These were from a class I taught at Sur La Table where the results were stupendous.  Chewy, not tough, great depth of flavor and definitely a make-again recipe. These are the "everything" version, the deeply browned exterior being due to molasses in the dough as well as some molasses in the bagel boiling water.  Yup!

And so the adventures continue.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Coconut sugar and maple cream - new ingredients on my shelf

It's hard to believe that it's already been two whole weeks since our return from Paris.  It took a bit of time to get back on schedule and catch up with the odds and ends of daily living, but catch up we have and we're movin' forward!

We're seeing some beautiful fall colors and are currently enjoying sunny skies, balmy breezes and temps in the 70s.  We'll take it, since we know what's coming just around the corner.  It is Michigan after all.

Now let's get back into the kitchen OK?

Before we left on our France adventure I had purchased some coconut sugar as a result of perusing the various sugar choices on the grocery store shelf. The package info tells me that the coconut blossom is the source for this unrefined, sustainably grown and harvested sugar which tastes nothing of coconuts but has its own subtle taste.  It's touted as being great for baking as a 1:1 replacement for white sugar.  

In addition, my sister Mary had sent me a jar of Tonewood maple cream as a birthday gift, and it was just waiting to be used.  This stuff is made in Vermont by cooking and whipping pure maple syrup to a state of creamy goodness.  What's not to like.

First the coconut sugar.  I'm tweaking my shortbread flavor list for the upcoming holidays and decided to do a lime coconut version, so I substituted half of the sugar in the recipe with coconut sugar.  It looks like brown sugar and actually tastes like it too - toasty, caramel-y and very pleasant.  

It did give the dough a slightly darker hue than usual . . . 

and the cookies baked up more browned and toasty looking.

There was really no difference in the flavor - still tasty - so for me it's simply a matter of using an unrefined sugar in place of a refined one.  I've been doing this for some time with unrefined raw cane sugar which gives a pleasing crunch to shortbread cookies or as a topping for things like financiers.  

In a nutshell - coconut sugar seems well suited for general baking uses - you decide!

Next up - maple cream.  Maple walnut shortbread is one of my faves.  I typically reduce the amount of cane sugar in my recipe, add maple syrup and then brush the warm, just-out-of-the-oven cookies with more maple syrup. Hey! I'll use maple cream instead.

This stuff is delicious - wonderful maple flavor and a texture that can't be beat. I used it in the shortbread dough just as I would maple syrup.

Once the cookies were baked I brushed the tops with maple cream . . . 

and popped them back in the oven for a couple of minutes.

Bubbling, glistening and divine.

Tonewood's web site describes the maple cream as "the perfect spread over toast or pancakes or used as a dessert frosting".  Cost is $16.99 for a 9 ounce jar.  There are pages of recipes available on the site as well, many of which call for maple sugar and maple syrup as opposed to maple cream.

Suffice it to say, one could slather this stuff on pretty much anything - how about a day old croissant, nicely toasted? Or add some to your hot morning oatmeal? Or drizzle some over toasted nuts and enjoy with a nice sharp cheddar cheese?

Don't be afraid to use your imagination - come up with your own ideas!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Saying goodbye to Paris

We had a wonderful adventure this go around, starting with our visit with the MacDs in Lille, our WWI sites tour with Richard and Pauline and finally 10 days in Paris focusing on cemeteries for Steve and pastries for me.  And of course we were able to do a fair amount of flaneur-ing as we strolled around some of our favorite spots.

Our last day in Paris was a beauty - 60s, sunny, breezy and oh so lovely.

That morning Steve had a cemetery visit to make and I visited the new LCB Paris. We then connected at metro Sèvres-Babylon and strolled to rue du Cherche-Midi for lunch at Cuisine de Bar.  For years I've been enamored of this spot for dejeuner, right next to the Poilâne boulangerie, but this time we were unimpressed.  The  main server didn't seem able to get his act together, even though this is a small place and it wasn't very busy.  Finally we were served our tartines (open face sandwiches) made with Poilâne bread and, in our case, topped with a curry chicken.  It was tasty I must admit, but the place has lost it's appeal, and I suspect we won't go back again.

We meandered over to Saint-Sulpice with its impressive statue and fountain . . . .

and then wandered over to the nearby Jardin du Luxembourg, one of the best places to hang out in Paris if you ask me.  Since it was such a beautiful day many people were sitting in shorts and shirtsleeves soaking up the autumn sun in an attempt to extend their summer tans.

So many beautiful flowers!

We headed back to our apartment so I could start tackling the packing before going back out early in the evening for an aperitif and then dinner on rue Saint Anne, the Asian restaurant hot spot in Paris.

And finally we just had to finish up on the Trocadero to see the Eiffel Tower in all its twinkling glory!

So long Paris. Until next time.