Oranais aux pêches


Kinda looks like a double yolked fried egg, eh?

As we step ever so eagerly into prime baking season and autumn flavors like apples, pears, nuts, caramel, coffee, chocolate and pumpkin, here’s a farewell nod to the delicious summer fruits of west Michigan. Desirous of doing something a bit different, I opted for my own peach version of oranais.

So what is oranais you might ask? A traditional pastry made with either puff pastry or croissant dough, it’s created with a combination of pastry cream and apricot halves. It may go by a different name in various parts of France, e.g. lunette aux abricots, croissant aux abricots (en Bretagne) or abricotine (sud de la France).

My research revealed that it reportedly originated in Algeria in and around the port city of Oran - hence the name oranais. Did you know that Algeria is fourth in apricot production in the world? And let’s not forget that Algeria was once governed by France so there’s still a huge French influence there, both culturally and culinarily (is that even a word?). By the way, here’s a little historical tidbit for you - Algeria gained it’s independence from France on July 5, 1962.

During our various trips-to and stays-in Paris over the years, oranais is always on Steve’s radar - he loves those sunny beauties!! Frankly they’re not often found in the many pastry shops around town so one has to keep an eye out for a good one. At Le Cordon Bleu Paris we made them with croissant dough, and those that we’ve found in Parisian pâtisseries have been made that way as well. However my online research found that many recipes call for puff pastry.

I decided to give it a go with both. Oh boy!

Since puff is not yeasted it’s more straight forward in its handling - no worries about the dough bubbling and puffing up during the rolling, cutting and shaping. I rolled my puff to about 6-7 mm (~1/4”) thick and cut 80 mm (3 inch) squares.


The rolling out, cutting and assembly process is the same for both puff and croissant dough. Using a classic pastry cream, pipe a line diagonally across the square, place two rounds of fresh peach near opposite corners and bring the other two opposite corners up and over, sealing with egg wash. Sort of like a chubby bowtie.


Remember - puff doesn’t have to rise before baking, whereas with the croissant dough version, give it a 45-50 minute (give or take) rise. I topped the shaped/risen croissant version of oranais with an additional blob of pastry cream and some peach jam in the hopes of keeping the corners together during their time in the oven.


Bake at 400ºF for about 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden brown.

Puff result

Puff result

Croissant dough version result

Croissant dough version result

Once out of the oven brush with a vanilla simple syrup or some apricot glaze and let cool.

During the bake there was definitely more slipping and sliding of the pastry cream and peach in the croissant dough version. I had to keep pushing the peach rounds back onto the dough in my attempts at keeping things together.

As for the taste test (the best part, especially for Mr. Steve), we actually preferred the puff version. The flaky pastry and creamy, peachy combo was oh so delicious.

Of course, the croissant version was pretty good as well. After all, anything made with croissant dough is usually a winner.

Bottom line - going forward I’ll be making my oranais with puff. Yes indeed!

Blueberry tart with peach ice cream


Even though autumn is creeping up on us, we’re still enjoying blueberry season, and it’s time for a straight forward blueberry tart. This one is based on the “Double Blueberry Tart” recipe in Food52’s “Genius Desserts” - a book I purchased a couple of months ago and find so enjoyable and illuminating. Not only does it offer so many great recipes but also tips and tricks from a number of talented baking and pastry professionals.

What better to pair with the tart but peach ice cream made with our delicious local west Michigan grown peaches. A match made in heaven.

For my crust I made an oat/whole wheat version of a basic pâte brisée using the food processor method. This makes plenty for two 9” tarts.

I rolled out my chilled dough and lined my 240 mm open tart ring. I can do this ahead and hold it in the freezer for a day or two before filling and baking. Love planning ahead!


The idea here is to have a jammy baked berry filling that is ultimately topped with fresh blueberries. Double whammy delight!

Heat the oven to 400ºF.

I learned this tip from my mom years ago - sprinkle a mix of equal parts flour and sugar on the bottom of the unbaked crust. It helps protect it from soggy-ness. Gotta love it.

Stir together 75 g turbinado or blond cane sugar (I use Moreno), 2 tablespoons all purpose flour, a few grates of fresh nutmeg, a large pinch of cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon coriander. Place a scant 3 cups fresh blueberries into the lined tart shell and sprinkle the sugar mixture over them. Dot with butter.


Bake for about an hour until the crust is nicely browned and the berries bubbly. Ooooh - like blueberry jam!


Once the tart has fully cooled, the only thing left to do is top it with 2 cups fresh blueberries and dust with confectioner’s sugar shortly before serving. Whoo-hoo!


Slice it up, top with a scoop of your favorite ice cream (peach in this case) and enjoy this crispy, buttery delectable crust filled with oh-so wonderful Michigan blueberries. You can’t beat it folks!


Chocolate caramel cream cheese trifle


Here’s a quick look at making a simple trifle. It’s a great way to use up left over components or you can start with freshly made goodies as well. These were put together for a family gathering - transportable and self contained.

Typically a trifle consists of cake cubes (pound, genoise, classic layer or pretty much any kind of cake you’d like to use), an imbibing syrup or fruit sauce to moisten the cake, a creamy layer like pastry cream, whipped mascarpone, lemon curd or chocolate mousse, fruits of choice, or in my case, no fruit at all. I like to include some kind of crunch in the form of cookie crumbs, chopped toasted nuts, crushed nut brittle or caramelized puffed rice for something just a little different. Make your trifle in any size you’d like - a large bowl or individual cups or ramekins. A classic trifle bowl is clear glass and deep so as to show off the layers but anything works!

Remember that Reine de Saba post I wrote awhile back? Well it turns out I had some of the cake in the freezer plus some whipped-cream-lightened cream cheese pastry cream on hand from another project. Since I always have homemade caramel sauce in my fridge and chocolate crunchy crumbs in my freezer, I thought why not create a lovely layered trifle for an easy summer dessert?

The one thing I did make fresh was the caramelized puffed rice - a simple process of stirring together 50 g sugar, 50 g light corn syrup, 25 g unsalted butter and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan, bringing it to a boil and then stirring in 62 g puffed rice.

Spread the mixture out on a Silpat lined sheet pan and bake in a 375ºF oven for 20 minutes until golden brown. Let it cool then break into shards. Makes plenty!

I used Arrowhead Mills puffed rice (ingredient: puffed brown rice - no sugar, no salt, no fat) and find it perfect for this. Once caramelized, it reminds me of an ever so lightly sweetened version of Sugar Crisp cereal which I used to love as a kid, only much better! I even added some to my morning shredded wheat and berries for that little extra something. Not a bad way to start the day.

Below you see my cream cheese pastry cream, chocolate crunchy cookie crumbs, caramel and slices of Reine de Saba waiting to be crumbled up.


In go the chunks of chocolate cake, chocolate crunchy crumbs, a drizzle of caramel and a swirl of pastry cream . . . .


. . . . . followed by more cake chunks, crumbs, caramel and a final pastry cream swirl. I added a final dollop of lightened sweetened whipped cream, then into the fridge until ready to serve. These can be assembled several hours ahead or even up to a day (although the chocolate cookie crumbs might get a tad soggy in that case).

I added the caramelized puffed rice on top just before serving to preserve the light crunch.


What a pleasing combo of creamy, chocolate-y, crunchy and lightly sweet - not bad at all.

When making your own trifle, particularly when using an imbibing syrup or fruity sauce, it’s fine (and even recommended) to assemble the evening before or the morning of - that gives plenty of time for cake to soften and flavors meld for a delicious finale to your day.

Have fun with it!

Lemon ricotta blueberry tarts


It’s definitely blueberry season here in West Michigan - love it! We’ve been deep into it for the past few weeks and they’re still coming. Of course I simply had to create something with these luscious orbs so I turned to some of my favorite base recipes.


I love choosing my components and flavor profiles while giving myself plenty of time to make each part, assembling the final result when I’m ready to serve and enjoy. The freezer plays an important roll here folks and is one of the most useful tools in the baking and pastry armamentarium. Hip hip hooray for freezers!

I recently purchased a set of 80 mm square perforated tartlet forms that came with a 6-well silicone mold to create fillings that fit oh so nicely in or atop the tart shell. They’re made by my favorite Italian silicone flexi-mold maker Silikomart. What a cool way to create a composed tart - right up my alley. And let’s not forget - soooo many possibilities.

Of course I’ve been itching to try them out and what better way than creating a blueberry lemon flavor combo to help celebrate our summer’s berry bounty.


Perforated tart forms have been available for some years now, the idea being that the tart crust will brown ever so golden-ly since the dough is exposed to more oven heat via the numerous little holes.

For this project I started with a version of pâte sucrée based on a Claudia Fleming recipe from her book “The Last Course”. It’s very reminiscent of a honey graham cracker: cream 227 g (2 sticks/8 ounces) unsalted softened butter with 50 g granulated sugar and 50 g dark brown sugar until smooth; add 84 g (1/4 cup) honey and beat until well blended; in a separate bowl mix together 195 g (1.5 cups) all purpose flour, 125 g (1 cup) whole wheat pastry flour, 1 teaspoon salt, a pinch of cinnamon and some freshly grated nutmeg; add the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar/honey mixture in two additions and blend just until the dough comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least an hour before rolling out.

NOTE: this makes more than needed for the six square tarts; the extra dough will be OK wrapped in the fridge for a couple of days (if you have another use for it soon) or in the freezer for several months. If frozen, thaw overnight in the fridge before using.

I lined my square tart forms, blind baked them and filled them with my favorite lemon tart filling á la Jacques Genin, pouring the still warm mixture into the baked shells (note: the baked shells don’t have to cool all the way before adding the lemon filling). Bake at 300ºF for about 10-15 minutes until the filling is set (look for just a hint of jiggle in the center). Let cool and store covered in the fridge for a day if you’re planning on serving them soon or freeze for several days or up to 1-2 weeks. If frozen, you can top with the ricotta custards right out of the freezer (more on that coming up!).


It’s all about the components - work on them step-by-step then put it all together for the pièce de resistance!

Now for the lemon ricotta filling (makes plenty for six 80 mm square tarts plus a number of additional flexi-mold shapes of your choice - I did a bunch of ingots which are just waiting in my freezer for the next creation!).


Blend 2 cups whole milk ricotta with 150 g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 1 teaspoon lemon zest (or lemon/lime zest combo), 1 teaspoon vanilla and 3 large eggs. In this case I also blended in 1/4 cup of leftover lemon tart filling to add a bit more tang.

Heat the oven to 325ºF. Fill your chosen flexi-molds and place the mold(s) on a sheet pan. Carefully pour hot water around the base of the molds so as to create a shallow water bath around the molds. Bake about 20 minutes until set.

Remove from the oven, gently lift the flexi-mold(s) and place on a wire grid to cool. Once cool, place the molds in the freezer to firm up, at least 4 hours or overnight.

When ready to assemble, pop the frozen ricotta custards out of the molds and place on top of the lemon filled tarts.


Once this step is complete, place the assembled tarts in the fridge for several hours to allow the ricotta custards to thaw. The custards will hold their shape in the fridge and be ready for the blueberry topping for serving. Yes!


For the blueberry topping: place 2 cups fresh blueberries, 50 g sugar, 2 tablespoons water and the zest of a lemon in a saucepan over medium heat until the berries pop (4-5 minutes). Cook another few minutes to jam-ify a bit, transfer to a clean bowl, stir in a splash of lemon juice and chill. When ready to garnish your tarts, stir in an additional 1 cup fresh blueberries and spoon the topping over the chilled lemon tarts. You’ll have plenty - the leftovers will keep in the fridge in a covered container for 2-3 days (hmmm . . how about on top of your favorite vanilla or berry or peach ice cream?). Sounds deelish.

Et voilà! You are ready to enjoy a delicious summer treat. The combo of the honeyed whole wheat crust, tart and tangy citrus filling, smooth ricotta custard and luscious berries is absolutely stunning!

And yes - Steve gave it a thumbs up!


Ooooo - next time how about chocolate pâte sucrée, dark chocolate ganache filling, topped with an orange hazelnut custard and garnished with crunchy hazelnut praline? Sounds like a great autumn/winter project to me!

Les macarons (part 2)


Welcome to part 2 of les macarons!

As we continue to look at some of the other versions of les macarons, next up are those of Montmorillon located in the Viennes department in the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine (previously Aquitaine, Limousin and Poitou-Charente) in central-western France. They are a complete change-up from the classic macaron lisse - rather than the smooth, somewhat glossy, gently rounded cookie with the frilly pied, these are craggy, rustic mounds typically piped in a swirl using a star or channeled type of tip. They sport no particular garnish or sandwich filling and are meant to be enjoyed in their simple glory.

I actually did two different batches of these, the first using a narrower open star type tip with this result - kinda sea urchin like, eh?


The process is straight forward, starting with toasting 150 g blanched almond flour for 10-15 minutes in a 300ºF oven (à la Mercotte). Cool the almond flour then blend 100 g granulated sugar with it. Neither processing nor sifting for this one folks!

Then whip 70 g egg whites (a bit over 2 large whites) with 25 g sugar to stiff peaks, add a few drops of almond extract and fold the dry ingredients into the whipped whites. Not bad at all.

Pipe the mixture onto Silpat lined sheet pan(s) using a more narrow open star tip or wider large star tip. Depending on your piped size, you should get a least a couple of dozen cookies out of the recipe. You can easily double the recipe for more!

Let them rest at room temperature for 2 hours.


Heat the oven to 375ºF. As soon as you place your pans in the oven reduce the temperature to 350ºF. Bake for 3 minutes then reduce again to 320ºF and bake an additional 15-17 minutes until lightly browned.


What a wonderful chew with a great almond flavor and freezing made them even better (which is true of pretty much all macarons if you ask me!).

Eat them au naturel or dip them in some dark chocolate (which, according to Mister Steve, never hurts anything). Yum.

Next up - macaron craquelé au chocolat.


Another of Stephane Glacier’s recipes, this chocolate number varies from the classic Mercotte version with the amount of confectioner’s sugar reduced by about a third and the almond flour by half. The egg white/granulated sugar ratio remains the same. In addition there’s a bit of all purpose flour and unsweetened cocoa powder in the mix. All of this makes for a softer, lighter cookie with less chew.

Note: For gluten free baking it shouldn’t be a problem to omit the all purpose flour. You can easily double the amounts below to increase your yield from one half sheet pan to two. Depending on the size you pipe, you should get about 30 sandwiches from a doubled recipe.

Here’s the process (single recipe). Whisk together 75 g confectioner’s sugar, 63 g almond flour, 1/2 tablespoon all purpose flour and 1/2 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder.

In a clean mixing bowl using the whisk attachment whip 90 g (about 3 large) room temperature egg whites and a pinch of salt on medium-low until white and foamy. Shower in 25 g granulated sugar and, once incorporated, increase speed to high and whip to stiff peaks.

Fold the dry ingredients into the whipped egg whites in three additions then work the mixture with a spatula or bowl scraper until supple and smooth (think about flowing lava!).

Pipe rounds onto Silpat lined sheet pans and let rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.


Meanwhile heat the oven to 335ºF.

Dust with a mix of 1 tablespoon powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder and bake about 12 minutes. Cool.

Before the oven

Before the oven

Out of the oven

Out of the oven

While these pictures make things look like dirty snow and it’s difficult to see the surfaces, the after oven cookies are drier with some cracks on top. Notice that these do not form the pied!

For the filling I made a simple chocolate ganache with the addition of some honey. Glacier points out that the honey adds a certain unctuousness to the ganache - he’s absolutely right!

Have 130 g chopped chocolate (60-64% recommended) ready in a heat proof bowl. In a small saucepan bring 150 ml heavy cream and 1 tablespoon honey to a boil, pour it over the chocolate and blend until smooth. Cool it to proper piping consistency.

Match up your macarons size-wise, pipe a dollop of ganache on one half and sandwich ‘em up.


These offer a lovely soft texture that marries so nicely with the smooth ganache. And don’t forget - they get even better in the freezer!


I’ve only scratched the surface of the macaron world. There are so many variations out there, so do some investigating and testing of your own and have fun! That’s what it’s all about.

Les macarons (part 1)

Raspberry white chocolate  macarons à la Mercotte

Raspberry white chocolate macarons à la Mercotte

With all of the hoopla surrounding what folks around the globe recognize as French macarons, those jewel like almond meringue sandwich cookies that are available in oh so many flavors, I felt it was time to look at the process as well as some of the lesser known versions of macarons that have been around certain regions of France for a long time. In addition to my recipe review and web research, I also have to thank Stéphane Glacier for his book, un amour de macaron, as well as Mercotte’s site for reams of info on these treats that don’t show any sign of losing their popularity.

We have macaron de Nancy (a.k.a Lorrain), macaron de Montmorillon (along with a museum) and macaron craquelé just to name a few. Some are a simple single almond cookie without any garnish or sandwich filling while others follow along the lines of the Parisian-style version à la La Durée et Pierre Hermé (known as macaron lisse or smooth).

Macarons de Nancy

Macarons de Nancy

Macarons de Montmorillon  version one

Macarons de Montmorillon version one

Macarons de Montmorillon  version two

Macarons de Montmorillon version two

Macarons craquelé au chocolat

Macarons craquelé au chocolat

While all of these lovelies are made with basically the same three ingredients (almond flour, sugar and egg whites), the ratios are all slightly different and yield textures ranging from chewy to soft/melt-in-your-mouth, some a bit more dry and some more moist. As I went back and revisited my notes on macaron recipes from pastry school, professional development classes and pastry textbooks, I was reminded again of not only the varying ratios but also different approaches to the process. Sheesh! It becomes rather dizzying after awhile.

I’ve been teaching French macaron classes at Sur La Table in recent months but hadn’t actually made a batch at home for ages (dough is my true love!). I had a bunch of saved egg whites stashed in my fridge as a result of recent egg yolk based custard/pastry cream preparations. I normally use them for my favorite financier tea cake batter, but now it’s macaron time in spades!!

Raspberry white chocolate  macarons

Raspberry white chocolate macarons

First up - Mercotte’s recipe which falls into the lisse (or we’ll call it the classic) category. It’s very similar to Le Cordon Bleu’s recipe as well as the one I brought home from a Le Notre class some years ago. A few differences - Mercotte toasts and cools the almond flour first; she places her pan of piped macarons on an empty sheet pan already heated in the oven, whereas Le Notre bakes on room temperature doubled pans; she doesn’t let her piped macarons rest before baking. Say what??

First: Heat the oven to 300ºF. Spread 120 g almond flour on a sheet pan and toast it for 10 minutes. Let it cool then mix it with 220 g confectioners sugar, pulse the combo in a food processor then sift it. Set aside. Leave the oven at 300ºF and place an empty sheet pan in to heat up.

Second: Place 90 g room temperature aged egg whites (I often let mine sit in the fridge for a week or so) along with a couple drops of lemon juice and a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl, whip it until white and foamy, add 25 g granulated sugar and whip to firm peaks.

Third: Fold the dry ingredients into the whites in 3 additions, blending with a bowl scraper or spatula to achieve a lava-like, smooth and glossy mixture that ribbons when you lift and let it fall into the bowl. An option is to add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of powdered coloring of choice. I opted for a couple of teaspoons of raspberry powder, mostly to add a bit of flavor enhancement as opposed to color.

Fourth: Using a 10 mm round tip, pipe them out onto a Silpat lined sheet pan. More raspberry dust for me!

Fifth: Rest at room temperature about 30 minutes (see following notes!) then bake for about 13 minutes.

Here’s where Mercotte veers from the common path of letting the macs sit for awhile to develop a skin - she doesn’t do it!


Since I had a couple of sheet pans to bake I decided to pop the first one in without the wait and give the other one a 30 minute or so rest. Lo and behold the rested batch baked more evenly, held their shape better and formed a more precise pied.

Although it may be a little difficult to appreciate, the first image below shows the no-rest batch - a little more spread, not quite the rise and a bit flatter and rougher pied.

No rest batch

No rest batch

This next image is the rested batch which puffed a little higher, held the pied shape better and just seemed to be a nicer bake overall. I think I’ll take the rested approach.


I sandwiched these babies with a raspberry white chocolate ganache made with 140 g Guittard white chocolate discs blended with 77 g heavy cream and 63 g raspberry purée that I gelée’d just a touch.

Note to self: dust with raspberry powder AFTER the bake, otherwise the raspberry dust darkens in the oven. Still tastes good though.


What I loved about these was their wonderful light chew, nice texture, delicious raspberry flavor and a not-over-the-top sweetness. Truth be told, that’s one of the things that has turned me off from some macarons I’ve had over the years - just TOO sweet for me!

Macarons de Nancy

Macarons de Nancy

Now it’s on to Nancy, the former capital of the duchy of Lorraine in what is now known as the Grand-Est region (previously Alsace, Champagne-Ardenne and Lorraine). They’ve been making macarons there for a looooong time, since the French revolution in the late 18th century. The most well known are Macarons des Soeurs, reportedly created by two nuns, Sisters Marguerite and Marie-Elisabeth. The “real” recipe is still a closely guarded secret, or so they say.

The base recipes I discovered on line and in Glacier’s book are lower in sugar than the lisse version above. They bake flat, have a cracked top with a hint of shine and are deliciously chewy and not too sweet. I like them - a lot.

First: Heat oven to 480ºF - whoa! Line a half sheet pan with silpat.

Second: Sift 100 g blanched almond flour, 100 g confectioner’s sugar and 9 g vanilla sugar and blend together. Set aside.

Third: Whip two room temperature egg whites to soft and supple peaks and blend them into the dry ingredients. Add a few drops of vanilla extract.

Fourth: Pipe rounds onto prepared sheet pan. Brush tops lightly with water and dust with confectioner’s sugar.

Fifth: Place pan in hot oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 300ºF. Bake 15-20 minutes until tops are golden.

It’s that fourth step and into the HOT oven that gives these their top shine and crackle - crispy outside and a lovely chewiness inside makes these so simply wonderful! Enjoy them as is or sandwich ‘em up with your favorite ganache or jammy buttercream. You won’t be sorry, believe you me.


Stay tuned for part 2 starring macarons de Montmorillon and macarons craquelé! Can’t wait.

Gâteau Nantais


Always on the look out for regional French baked goods, this one came to my attention some months ago thanks to a link to a Washington Post piece (from which the recipe comes) sent by my friend MBT. I’ve had it on my to do list ever since and finally got around to purchasing a bottle of rum, an ingredient that typically doesn’t grab my attention nor my taste buds!. Buuuuutt - desirous of keeping to the classic recipe I simply had to include the rum n’est-ce pas?

The preparation is oh-so straight forward but give yourself a day or two ahead of serving since it’s recommended that you let this rum soaked/glazed cake sit for a day for the flavors to infuse. And be sure you have SALTED butter on hand, an absolute when baking anything even remotely associated with Brittany. While present day Nantes is located in the Pays de la Loire region, it was once the capital of Brittany and home to les Ducs de Bretagne. Those Bretons do love their butter.

There are three components: rum simple syrup, almond sponge cake and confectioner’s sugar glaze.

Make the syrup: Heat 75 g granulated sugar with 155 ml water over low-medium heat in a small saucepan. Stir occasionally to dissolve the sugar then increase to high and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cool then add 3 tablespoons dark rum. This can be made several days ahead and held in the fridge. The recipe makes plenty for one cake and any leftover will keep in the fridge for weeks as any simple syrup will.

Make the cake: Heat the oven to 350ºF. Butter an 8” springform pan, line the bottom with a round of parchment then butter the parchment.
Place 125 g salted butter and 150 g granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or use an electric handheld mixer) and beat with the paddle on medium low until creamy. Add 125 g almond flour and beat to incorporate. In a separate bowl lightly beat 3 large eggs and add them to the batter in three or four additions, blending well after each addition. Add 40 g all purpose flour and 3 tablespoons of rum and beat on medium to create a smooth batter.
Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.


Bake 40-45 minutes until set in the center and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan.


Once out of the oven, loosen the pan, turn the cake out onto a cooling rack, remove the bottom parchment than flip right side up onto another cooling rack set over a sheet pan. Brush the warm cake generously with about half of the rum syrup.


Once the cake has cooled completely give it another decent brushing of rum syrup.

For the glaze: mix 100 g confectioner’s sugar with 1 tablespoon rum and add small amounts of water until you have a glaze that will drizzle and spread smoothly. You can spread it on top only, as I did, or let it drip down the sides - it’s up to you.


Now it’s ready to cover and let sit for a day. Steve and I behaved ourselves and waited the requisite time frame before diving in for a taste.


To our delight, the rum essence was not at all overpowering and the cake offered a pleasing density, moistness and all around lovely taste. My one regret is that I didn’t avoid the top-of-the-cake grid marks from the cooling rack but that certainly didn’t detract from the overall enjoyment. One small slice is all it takes to comprehend le gâteau Nantais. Now we just have to visit Nantes and enjoy a slice! Maybe we’ll see you there?


Strawberry shortcake


Recognizing the fleeting yet delicious strawberry season here in west Michigan I just had to share a little something with you on June’s quintessential summer dessert - strawberry shortcake.


What a difference between the often gargantuan looking engineered strawberries that we get from California and the smaller, succulent and so tasty berries from our local growers. Oh my.

California vs. Michigan

California vs. Michigan

Whether you like yours assembled with a crumbly scone/shortcake/biscuit or a wedge of angel food or sponge cake, with lightly sweetened whipped cream or a scoop of chilly ice cream (think vanilla, strawberry or pistachio!), it’s definitely a seasonal favorite.

The spring board for this off-the-cuff post was a shortcake made recently during a teen’s summer culinary camp session at Sur La Table where I teach baking and pastry classes. The recipe is very similar to my usual scone recipe with a couple of tweaks: more cream and no egg. The result, especially warm from the oven, has just the right crispness on the surface and a dense yet light melt-in-your-mouth texture inside. Yum. Yum.

And ya wanna know the cool part? The dough is made in the food processor! I’m here to tell you that I’ve been a staunch “by-hand” scone and flaky pie dough maker for a long time without the need (or desire) for gadgets. Give me a simple dinner fork, bowl scraper, bench scraper, small offset spatula, paring knife, silicone spatula for many dough mixing and bench top projects and I’m in heaven.

Ahhh . . . . but wait. I am now on the best of terms with the food processor for those flaky doughs made with cold cubed butter - quick pulses and voilà! Think your best pâte brisée, quick puff pastry, buttery scones and biscuits - all of ‘em!


Here’s the shortcake recipe:
1. Heat the oven to 425ºF. Have a parchment lined sheet pan ready.
2. Cube 113 g (1 stick/4 ounces) cold unsalted butter and hold it in the freezer until ready to mix.
3. Have one cup of cold heavy cream standing by in the fridge.
4. Place 260 g (2 cups) all purpose flour (or 60 g whole wheat pastry flour + 200 g a.p. flour), 50 g (1/4 cup) sugar, 8 g (2.5 teaspoons) baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse it a couple of times to mix.
5. Add the cold cubed butter and pulse briefly several times to break it up - you WANT pea to pecan-half size pieces of butter left!
6. Add the cream and pulse again briefly several times just until the dough comes together.
Turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface and lightly squeeze any clumps together. Don’t overwork. Form a 4”x8” rectangle and cut 8 squares.
7. Place the squares on the prepared sheet pan, brush tops with cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Place the sheet in the freezer for 10-15 minutes then bake about 15 minutes until the tops are golden brown.
8. Cool or serve still slightly warm with fresh strawberries and whipped cream or ice cream of choice.

Either split your shortcake/fill it/cap it and top with berries and cream or simply leave it whole and pile on the goods, it’s up to you. You can even chunk it up in a bowl and crown it with creamy, fruity goodness. Any way you do it, it’s superb!


Here’s to lots more summer berries. Enjoy!

Reine de Saba


Reine de Saba (Queen of Sheba) is essentially a chocolate almond torte and reportedly one of Julia Child’s first French gateau experiences - one that helped launch her into what would become a fantastic culinary adventure for life.

There are a bevy of different recipes out there for this one - most involve melting dark chocolate with butter, separating the egg whites and yolks, whipping the whites with a portion of the sugar to create a meringue, adding almond flour along with your choice of a small amount of all purpose flour or alternate flour like teff and folding everything together.

After my review of a half dozen or so recipes I ultimately landed on two of Alice Medrich’s - one from “Seriously Bittersweet” and one an alternate grain version from “Flavor Flours” which uses teff flour (gluten free!) in place of all purpose. Dense, dreamy, creamy yet light and chocolate-y all at the same time. That woman KNOWS her chocolate boy oh boy! Thanks A.M.


In “Seriously Bittersweet” A.M. dedicates a page to the “versatility and the role of ingredients” in creating these chocolate gateaux. She says “This type of torte is essentially an extremely buttery chocolate egg custard given texture with ground nuts and maybe a little flour. The basic ingredients are standard, but the quantity of each is almost infinitely flexible”.

She goes on to explain how the eggs (whether separated or not) help bind the rest of the ingredients whether you use 3, 4 or 5 eggs; how even a small amount of flour adds a smoothness to nutty tortes by affecting the way the eggs cook; how nuts can be used un-blanched , blanched, toasted or raw as well as in different quantities - a lower measure of nuts will give you a less cake-y and more mousse-y custard like torte, while whole ground nuts will provide a coarser texture than more finely milled nut flours.

Butter adds flavor, contributes to texture and provides moisture as well. Brewed coffee or different liqueurs or spirits like rum, bourbon, kirsch, Frangelico or Amaretto add flavor too. So many possibilities.

While each of these two recipes uses practically identical ingredients, the teff version (below) keeps the eggs whole and everything is blended together in one bowl - easy-peasy. You can even use a hand held mixer. Ms. Medrich points out that the secret to a fluffy batter for this one is chocolate not too warm, butter not too soft and eggs cold!


Here goes!
Heat the oven to 375ºF. Butter the bottom of an 8” springform pan then line the bottom with parchment.
Mix 70 g almond flour with 35 g teff flour and set aside.
Melt 170 g dark chocolate (70% recommended) over a barely simmering water bath, set aside and let cool to lukewarm.
Have 150 g sugar, 140 g unsalted cubed butter softened (not too!), 1/8 teaspoon salt and 4 cold large eggs at the ready.
Add almond-teff flours, sugar, butter chunks and salt to the chocolate and beat on medium with the hand held mixer until well blended and the batter thickens and lightens in color.
Beat in the eggs one by one then beat on high speed for a minute or so until fluffy and lighter in color, like chocolate frosting.
Scrape batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.

Looks like chocolate frosting to me!

Looks like chocolate frosting to me!

Bake 30-35 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs.


Slide a thin knife or small offset spatula around the sides to allow the cake to sink slightly as it cools. Cool completely.


For the more traditional version using all purpose flour, the process involves separating the eggs and whipping them separately with portions of the sugar. Rather than almond flour, whole natural almonds are processed with the flour to a coarse texture, giving the end result a toothy, nutty-textured chew.


For the second version heat the oven to 375ºF, butter the bottom of an 8” springform pan and line it with a round of parchment paper.

Place 170 g coarsely chopped chocolate (66-70%) and 140 g unsalted butter in a medium heatproof bowl set into a wide skillet with barely simmering water. Stir periodically until melted then, off the heat, stir in 3 tablespoons brandy (optional - I added some vanilla extract instead), 1/8 teaspoon almond extract and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Set it aside.

Pulse 70 g unblanched whole almonds and 15 g all purpose flour in a food processor to a cornmeal-like texture. Set aside.

Separate 4 large eggs: in a large bowl whisk the yolks with 100 g sugar until well blended then stir in the chocolate mixture.

In a clean, dry bowl whisk the whites and 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar on medium to soft peaks then sprinkle in 50 g sugar and beat at high speed to stiff but not dry peaks.

Now place 1/4 of the egg whites and all of the nut/flour mixture on top of the chocolate batter and fold them in with a large rubber spatula. Fold in the remaining egg whites.

Combining everything

Combining everything

Spread the batter into the prepared springform pan. Can you see the nut particles?

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Bake 25-30 minutes until a tester inserted into the center is still moist but one inserted ~1.5 inches from the edge is almost clean (whoa - talk about nuance!)

All baked up

All baked up

A light dusting of confectioner’s sugar sets off the dark chocolate nicely.


As usual, Steve and I did our mandatory taste test. We first tried the teff version which had a great chocolate flavor and smooth, creamy texture. But we gave the nod to the second version, enjoying the melt-in-your-mouth custard like center and the mouth feel of the coarser nuttier texture. Deelish!

Served with a honey-tinged Scandinavian yogurt and some fresh strawberries it was, in my estimation, superb (even though Mr. Steve is not a big yogurt fan).


The longer you bake, the more you begin to realize how much variation and play can happen from recipe to recipe. Even though we accept the fact that not everything always turns out as we had hoped, it’s a beautiful thing to try your own version and make it fun!

Happy summer!!

Tartelette trio - some classics

Lemon  feuilletées  / blackberry / lemon mascarpone

Lemon feuilletées / blackberry / lemon mascarpone

Dark chocolate ganache / brownie cube / whipped milk chocolate ganache

Dark chocolate ganache / brownie cube / whipped milk chocolate ganache

Fresh berries / pastry cream / raspberry  gelée  (yes - you’ve seen these before!)

Fresh berries / pastry cream / raspberry gelée (yes - you’ve seen these before!)

After my last couple of posts on Americana themed baked offerings, I’m turning back to my French pastry loves for the summer months. So much to talk about!

You know I’m always one for tart making, especially the petite versions of my favorites. This time around it was for a special luncheon for a group of former co-workers who gather once a year at Heron Woods/Manor, a local independent/assisted living facility just down the street from my home. Deftly orchestrated by Kim and David, it was a fine repast of salads, soup, fresh croissant (made by yours truly!) and topped off with the tartelettes for dessert.

These three babies were so fun to put together. The lemon consisted of baked quick puff (more on that in an upcoming post) feuilletées, one of the coolest twisted versions of a puff pastry case that there is, filled with my new favorite version of lemon curd (from the book “Sweet” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh), then baked a second time to set the curd. Follow that with a whipped lemon curd mascarpone garnish and fresh blackberry and it’s done!

Waiting for a short bake

Waiting for a short bake

Garnishing in process

Garnishing in process

The chocolate ganache offering was my usual chocolate pâte sucrée and dark chocolate ganache filling, but this time I cut small brownie cubes to tuck in so they would be a hidden surprise under the whipped ganache garnish.

Trust me - there’s a brownie cube hidden in there!

Trust me - there’s a brownie cube hidden in there!

Of course the fresh fruit choice follows the classic approach of a blind baked pâte sucrée crust filled with crème pâtissière lightened with some whipped cream and then topped with fresh berries coated in a raspberry gelée. Mmmmm good!


I must say I never tire of these and I hope you don’t either!

All toted up and ready to go

All toted up and ready to go

What a delicious trio! The followup up report from the luncheon-ers was a huge thumbs up! Yay, I love that!!

A quick end note: I walk regularly and so enjoy seeing nature in its various forms - the birds, the wild flowers, the flowering trees, and especially now the aroma of the lilac bushes I pass at various points in my route. It’s my time for thinking and reflection and helps me keep my head straight. This morning it was a scattering of simple wild daisies amongst the “ weeds” that caught my attention. Lightly coated with dew and looking so content, it made me smile. The simple things are often the best, don’t you think? Enjoy.


Two easy muffins: blueberry oat and mini pecan pie


In my last post on St. Louis gooey butter cake I mentioned our recent driving trip to various parts of the eastern USA. One of our stops just happened to be in Louisiana pecan country in the vicinity of Natchitoches, home to our friends Ed and Chris.


One morning Chris treated us to freshly baked mini pecan pie muffins and, since I had purchased a big bag of Louisiana pecans at Little Eva’s Pecan House, I simply had to make these little babies once we arrived back home in Michigan. Being on a muffin kick, I also reviewed some of my recipe files and thought some blueberry oat muffins sounded good too. So back to the Americana themed baking table, as it were.

I had some springy tulip style muffin papers that have been stashed in with some of my miscellaneous baking stuff for awhile now. My friend Patty of Patricia’s Chocolate in Grand Haven had received them as samples from one of her suppliers and offered them to me. It was finally time to give them a whirl.

The process for both of these treats is a basic muffin mixing approach - stir the dry ingredients together in one bowl, the wet in another then stir the wet into the dry until just blended. Scoop the batter into your chosen prepared pan and bake away. Easy.

The blueberry oat batter came out pretty loose (reminded me of financier batter), so my blueberries tended to sink to the bottom. Next time I’ll partially bake the muffins, poke some blueberries into each one part way through and hope for the best. The photo below is before baking - I only had 9 of the pretty papers so I buttered and floured the other three wells and just went for it.


They baked up nicely and tasted great too! Moist, tender and oh so good.


Blueberry oat recipe: makes 12 (see followup note at end of post)
Heat oven to 400ºF. Lightly butter a standard 12 well muffin pan or line the pan with papers and butter the papers (interesting step I thought).
In a large bowl stir together 195 g (1.5 cups) whole wheat pastry flour (all purpose is fine too), 50 g (1/2 cup) toasted old fashioned oats, 100 g (packed 1/2 cup) light or dark brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 2.5 teaspoons baking powder.
In a separate bowl blend together 240 ml (1 cup) whole milk with 75 g melted and slightly cooled unsalted butter and 2 large eggs.
Blend wet ingredients into dry until just combined.
Fold in 1 cup fresh blueberries.
Portion into prepared pan, sprinkle tops with oats and raw sugar (or cinnamon sugar if you prefer).
Bake for about 20 min until golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean.
Cool about 5 minutes then remove from the pan and cool completely (or just go ahead and try one slightly warm - you won’t be disappointed!).

Next up . . . .


The pecan gems were even easier - combine brown sugar, flour, chopped pecans, mix with melted butter and egg et voilà! The batter goes into well buttered mini muffin pans and they bake for about 22-24 minutes at 400ºF. Easy again.

Pecan pie muffin recipe: makes 24 minis
Heat oven to 350ºF. Thoroughly butter a 24 well mini muffin pan.
In a medium bowl combine 200 g (1 cup packed) light or dark brown sugar, 65 g (1/2 cup) whole wheat pastry flour (all purpose is fine too) and 1 cup chopped pecans.
In a separate bowl blend 150 g (2/3 cup) melted unsalted butter with 2 large eggs, lightly beaten.
Blend wet ingredients with dry and portion into prepared pans.
Bake 22-25 minutes until fragrant, set and golden.
Cool 5-10 minutes then remove from pan to cool completely.

These babies are moist with even an ooze of pecan pie-ness on the bottom. Not bad for a classic Louisiana pecan treat!


Enjoy spring and keep on baking!

Now for a quick followup on the blueberry oat - I made another batch (1.5 times the base recipe) and baked them in my individual Fat Daddio 3” diameter cake pans. First I buttered and cinnamon sugared the pans. This time I added a bit of cinnamon as well as some orange zest to the batter for a slightly different flavor profile. I portioned a tad over 3 ounces (90 -95 g) of batter into 12 of the individual cake pans. I baked them for 5 minutes at 400ºF and THEN topped each one with blueberries, raw sugar and a sprinkle of oats. I gave them another 5 minutes then reduced the temp to 385ºF and baked another 12 or so.


It worked! The blueberries didn’t sink and the cakes baked up beautifully. After just a few minutes of cooling I quickly ran a knife around the edges and popped the cakes out to cool completely.


Yippee yo-ki-yay! Until next time!!

St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake


Steve and I recently returned from an extensive driving trip through the Midwest, South, Mid-Atlantic and finally upstate New York before driving back home to Michigan through Canada along Lake Ontario. It was quite a ride let me tell you!

Our first stop was St. Louis MO to visit cousin Melissa, her husband Jeff and son Matthew. Some months back I had become aware of one of the local St. Louis food specialties, the gooey butter cake, so of course we had to try it while we were in the neighborhood.

We were directed by our lunch spot server to one of the stalwarts of the gooey butter cake industry, Gooey Louis, a very unassuming storefront that, as it turns out, held magic inside. Fortunately we arrived in mid-afternoon just in time to snag the last available cake of the day. Yippee!


Sold in a simple 9”x9” foil pan not unlike something you might see at a church bake sale, it also sported a confectioner’s sugar dusted top. The shop saleswoman advised us that it would keep for 7 days, but offered the warning that it should NOT be refrigerated - we don’t want to disturb that “gooey” top layer now do we?


I was pleasantly surprised at the flavor and texture, fearing that it would be a sugary, gooey mess. Instead I found a vanilla scented, not overly sweet, tenderly textured square that reminded me of a simple lemon bar (without the lemon) with a shortbread like crust topped with a luscious, melt-in-your mouth filling. My oh my.

The story goes that a German baker in St. Louis accidentally mixed up the quantities of butter and flour in a basic yellow cake and thus the “gooey” was born. I wasn’t able to ask the Gooey Louis baker about his approach to the cake since he had already left the shop for the day. As is my usual practice I turned to some of my baking literature as well as the internet to try to learn a bit more.

I recalled a recipe from the Holiday 2017 issue of SIFT magazine, a King Arthur Flour publication, so turned to that initially. Interestingly it includes a yeasted “cake” base topped by the gooey filling. As I searched online I found a very similar recipe on SmittenKitchen’s blog which then referred me back to the recipe printed in the NYT by Melissa Clark in 2010. Melissa notes the recipe came from Molly Killeen, a St. Louis native with a baking business in Brooklyn. Obviously it’s been around awhile.

The other recipe most prominent on internet searching was a Paula Deen version made with a boxed cake mix and a topping that included cream cheese. Thanks but no thanks.

Now it was time to try my hand at making it myself. While this type of thing is a diversion from the usual French Tarte baking projects, I figured we had just visited a decent portion of the US of A so why not go with a regional American goodie for a change, eh?


For the base: combine 7 g instant yeast, 45 g room temperature whole milk and 30 g warm water in a small bowl. Set aside while you cream 85 g room temperature unsalted butter with 45 g granulated sugar and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Scrape down the bowl and blend in one large egg. Add 220 g all purpose flour alternating with the milk mixture, starting and ending with the flour. Then mix at medium speed for 4-5 minutes.

Press the dough into a greased 9” x 13” pan . . . . .


and let it rise for about 2.5 hours. The dough was a bit tacky but soft and supple, and it spread easily into a layer barely 1/4” thick.

During the rise I did the mise en place for the topping, mixing it together toward the end of the rise as I also heated my convection oven to 345ºF.


For the topping: whisk together 70 g light corn syrup, 30 g (2 TBSP) water and 2.5 teaspoons vanilla extract in a small bowl. In a mixer with the paddle attachment cream 170 g unsalted butter with 300 g granulated sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt for several minutes until light and fluffy. Blend in one large egg then add 160 g all purpose flour alternating with the corn syrup mixture, starting and ending with the flour.

After the rise the base did indeed have a more pouffy look and had pretty much doubled in volume. The topping came together beautifully like a nice cake batter.


Dollop out the topping over the base . . . . .


then spread it out gently, smoothly and evenly.


Bake for 30-45 minutes (on the shorter side for a metal pan and the longer side for glass or ceramic). The cake rises and falls in a bit of a wavy pattern and the top should be golden brown but still liquid in the center. Mine had lovely browned, ripply and wrinkly edges, a moon crater like appearance and still gooey in the center. Be prepared: it has to cool completely in the pan before dusting with confectioner’s sugar, cutting and serving.


Steve and I did our initial taste testing by cutting some edge pieces - the bottom layer came out thicker than the cake we had in St. Louis, I’m sure as a result of the yeasted dough - and the topping a lovely buttery, not too sweet mixture. We liked it! The yeasted dough seemed almost bread like, as though we had slathered a wonderful slice with that delicious top layer


We had more the following day - still gooey and good! A 9x13 pan makes a lot so I’ll be doling out some portions to neighbors and co-workers lest Steve and I demolish it all ourselves.

Here’s to a delicious St. Louis treat!


Chocolate hazelnut marjolaine


For Steve’s one-week-early birthday meal at my mom’s I decided to make a marjolaine for our dessert. He’s a sucker for anything with dacquoise or choux paste so of course I wanted to include at least one of those components in his celebration dessert. Since we won’t be in GR on his actual birthday, Mom hosted us, along with cousin Clark, for a repast of her famous Swiss steak, cheesy potatoes, green beans and crunchy cole slaw. What a great way to launch a birthday week, eh Stevie?

Happy Birthday to Steve!

Happy Birthday to Steve!

A classic marjolaine is a layered, flourless dessert consisting of rectangles of nutty meringue (dacquoise) layered with ganache and pastry cream or buttercream. Once assembled it’s finished off with a coating of ganache or buttercream along with sliced almonds pressed onto the sides for garnish. Some flavors that are popular with the dark chocolate ganache are hazelnut, coconut, coffee or pistachio.

In my case chocolate and hazelnut were the choices, particularly since I had some of my homemade praliné in the fridge. The plan: three layers of toasted hazelnut-topped dacquoise sandwiched with whipped dark chocolate-praliné ganache and garnished with Chantilly, dacquoise kisses and more ganache. I opted for the rustic approach without the finish coat.

A quick note: my marjolaine became “floured” due to the addition of chocolate shortbread crumbs as one of my layers - omit that component and it is indeed flourless!

In preparation for dacquoise baking I used my 4” x 11” tart form to outline my rectangles - just place the form on the Silpat, dust powdered sugar over, lift off the form and voilà - the shapes are there as simple templates for the dacquoise. Cool.


I had enough batter for the three rectangles plus some leftover for petite kisses. Awwwww.

All piped out

All piped out

Before baking I sprinkled chopped hazelnuts on top along with a generous dusting of powdered sugar.


Dacquoise bakes at 350ºF for about 20 minutes. My version is a soft meringue - I look for lightly browned and set rectangles.


For the ganache I put 100 g dark chocolate pastilles in a heatproof bowl, brought 250 ml heavy cream to a boil, poured it over the chocolate, blended until smooth and then added 50 g (about 15% by weight of the ganache) of praliné (caramelized hazelnuts processed to a paste). Pop it into the fridge to chill before whipping it up for the layering portion of the program. I had plenty of ganache for this purpose - good for perhaps some petite tartelettes or profiteroles.


One rectangle of dacquoise down, ganache spread over it, then my chocolate crunchy crumbs (my favorite chocolate shortbread dough baked into crumbs) sprinkled over that.


Another layer of dacquoise then ganache then crumbs and so on.


To top it off I piped some Chantilly cream “pearls” along the length with swirls of ganache down the center and popped some of the dacquoise kisses right down the middle.

All set!

All set!


We enjoyed simple slices for the birthday dessert. Light, airy, delicious!


Enjoy spring and here’s to lots of May flowers coming soon!

And as always - happy baking!


Happy spring!


Better late than never, it’s high time I sent welcome-to-spring wishes to everyone. Even though we actually had a bit of SNOW! the other evening, we’re seeing green shoots coming out of the bare ground and some tree limbs showing their first hints of leaves. We’ll take it!

It seems life has a way of carrying us onward, often to the point of prompting us to ask “what I have been doing these past few weeks/months?!” While I don’t have a specific recipe or new project to share with you on the blog this time around, I thought it would be nice to show you what I’ve been up.

Oh - news flash! I’ve finally added a search box in the blog’s sidebar so you can type in key words, e.g. “croissant”, and find posts I’ve written on that particular topic. Cool!

Crunch top berry mascarpone profiteroles

Crunch top berry mascarpone profiteroles

Hazelnut  choux  rounds getting ready for Paris-Brest

Hazelnut choux rounds getting ready for Paris-Brest

Lemon mascarpone cake with orange honey buttercream

Lemon mascarpone cake with orange honey buttercream

Petite citrus cakes

Petite citrus cakes

Next up is my new favorite version of financier, those delightful teacakes that I love so dearly. This one is coffee hazelnut, dipped in dark chocolate ganache and topped with chopped toasted nuts. SO GOOD.

Coffee hazelnut  financiers

Coffee hazelnut financiers

I simply cannot ignore fresh fruit tarts - they always make me smile! These contain a baked ricotta custard/vanilla scented filling - deelish with fresh berries.

Sea salt caramel and espresso nib shortbread

Sea salt caramel and espresso nib shortbread

Current shortbread flavors, all tubed up!

Current shortbread flavors, all tubed up!

Breton blueberry almond tarts

Breton blueberry almond tarts

Ham and cheese whole wheat spirals

Ham and cheese whole wheat spirals

Lemon ricotta cakes

Lemon ricotta cakes

Cream cheese Danish

Cream cheese Danish

Ham/cheese spirals and Danish combo

Ham/cheese spirals and Danish combo

Another thing that keeps me busy involves planning and preparing for my classes at Sur La Table in Grand Rapids. Things like figuring out the best way to set up the class for optimum hands-on experience, determining quantities of dough that might have to be prepped ahead for topics like croissants or artisan breads, orchestrating a smooth flow to the class with delicious baked goods as the end result. What’s not to like.

Below is a test I did for a no-knead rustic bread baked in a Dutch oven style enameled cast iron pot. The loaf on the right was done in a gorgeous Le Creuset 2.25 quart lidded saucepan (sorry the lid is missing from the picture!) and the one on the left on a sheet pan. Not only the rise but the crusty, golden, shiny surface of the one from the cast iron pan can’t be beat! NOTE: one pound of dough worked very nicely in this size pan, the taller sides giving just the right lift to the dough.

Rustic no knead loaves

Rustic no knead loaves

There’s lots to be learned. Check out the class calendar on Sur La Table’s website for all sorts of topics, both savory cooking and baking/pastry classes. There are a number of chef instructors, myself included, just waiting to share their knowledge with you.

Until next time - happy baking!

Charlotte aux framboises


Ladyfingers (biscuit à la cuiller en Français) are just one of the components of a classic charlotte russe, a dessert created with the finger-like sponge cakes as a border, filled with a fruited bavarois and often garnished with crème Chantilly and fresh fruit. Raspberry and pear are two of the commonly used fruits for this particular delight.

Having recently been asked to make the raspberry version for a birthday dinner party for 10, back to the recipe file I went to review the various options for creating the dessert. Both Le Cordon Bleu’s pear charlotte (from my basic pastry classes there) and Michel Roux’s raspberry charlotte served as the springboard for my decisions. Believe you me, there are lots of variations out there.

I opted for a raspberry crème anglaise with added gelatin, blended with softly whipped cream (the makings of a typical bavarois). I went one step further and added some Italian meringue to boot, but you’d be happy with a bavarois by itself if you don’t want to fuss with the meringue part. Either way it’s a great combo!

The filling (even without the Italian meringue) makes plenty for a 9” springform pan. Put any leftovers in ramekins, chill to set and top with fresh fruit, chopped toasted nuts, chocolate sauce or whatever for a lovely light dessert on the fly.


But let’s take it a step back and review the process, OK? Ladyfingers are basically a sponge cake made with eggs, sugar and flour. The eggs are separated, the yolks are beaten with a portion of the sugar until blanched and thickened, and the whites beaten with the other portion of the sugar to stiff peaks (think meringue). The beaten whites are folded into the yolk/sugar mixture then the flour is sifted into the whole shebang and folded in gently. The leavener here is the aeration created by all of that egg whipping. Here’s the printable ladyfinger recipe.

Then it’s time for piping. Yay!

Wanting to put a diagonal slant on my ladyfinger border, I penciled my template for piping onto parchment paper and turned it over so the marks ended up on the non-baking side.


Pipe the lengths close together so once baked they meld into connected portions with which to line your mold. You can also see my base piece below.


They get a decent dusting of confectioner’s sugar times two before going into the oven. The idea is that the powdered sugar beads and crusts up a bit in the oven.

Bake them at 400ºF for 6-8 minutes et voilà!


It takes a little planning to assemble the charlotte, particularly depending on what type of form or pan you have on hand. In pastry school one typically uses an open cake ring lined with acetate film but I opted for the ring portion of my 9” springform pan lined with a parchment collar.

One of the great things about this dessert is its make-ahead-ability. It can be fully assembled and kept in the fridge for a couple of days or frozen for a week before your planned event. Just bake the ladyfingers and base, line your mold with the powdered sugar side of the sponge cakes facing out and hold it in the freezer while making your filling. Once filled, fridge it for a day or two ahead or freeze for a week if need be. It’s a beautiful thing.

The final garnish can be completed the day you plan to serve.

As you can see below, I tucked scraps of sponge cake along the inside bottom edge and where the ladyfinger borders meet to provide a secure cocoon for my raspberry filling. For just a little something extra I arranged fresh raspberries on the bottom.


Having completed my filling of raspberry bavarois lightened with Italian meringue, I poured it into my ladyfinger-ed mold almost to the top. Just remember - due to the timing of adding the gelatin and cooling the crème anglaise to just the right temperature for adding the whipped cream and Italian meringue, it’s imperative that your border and base are at the ready. Once the filling is in it’s simply a matter of chilling the whole thing and letting the filling set.


A final topping of crème Chantilly and fresh raspberries, and you can call it a day!


Since I made this for someone else’s party, I couldn’t slice into this baby right then and there to show you a cut section. Buuuuut . . . . I certainly did taste some ladyfinger scraps with a bit of the bavarois filling, and I say yes indeed!


Orange glazed brioche


Yes, I admit that I love delicious brioche, both making and eating it. Even though there’s a good deal of butter and egg in this enriched dough, if the base recipe is just right and the process is executed just so, it’s a real winner in my book. Light and pillowy with a tight yet soft crumb, it’s a canvas for so many different creations.

I’ve written about brioche in the past, but I’m one of those folks who loves to peruse recipes, compare and tweak the ingredient ratios as well as the methods used to produce some version of this particular delight. Knot rolls coming up!


This time I had citrus (orange to be exact) on my mind. During the winter months I often have a mix of orange segments with their juice plus some cut-up apples in a bowl in my fridge for that all important daily fruit quotient that we all need. Not wishing to waste any part of the orange, I zest my oranges before segmenting them, then wrap the zest in little packets, stashing them in the freezer so the zest is handy for my next citrus baking adventure.

I reviewed Dorie Greenspan’s brioche recipe in her book Baking Chez Moi in addition to Jeffrey Hamelman’s in his book Bread - A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes. While there are tons of recipes out there for brioche, what I took away from this review was one small interesting technique that Hamelman recommends when using a planetary stand mixer (like the ubiquitous Kitchenaid that many of us have). He notes that it’s more difficult to adequately develop the dough in a planetary mixer so suggests holding back half or more of the sugar at the beginning of the knead.

Sugar is hygroscopic and actually acts as a liquefying agent, so if it’s all added at the beginning, the result is a looser textured dough that doesn’t develop as well. Who knew? Learn something new everyday.

NOTE: if you’re interested in a quick run down on planetary (most commonly used) and spiral mixers (more specifically for bread and artisan dough) check this out.

The mixing process went well, the resulting dough had that silky, buttery texture one hopes for before the overnight refrigeration, and the following morning the division and shaping proceeded apace. I divided my dough into 42 g / 1.5 ounce portions, did the preliminary ball shaping and gave them a 10 minute rest.

Balled up dough ready for final shaping

Balled up dough ready for final shaping

I rolled each one into a snake and then formed ‘em into single knots. Kind of reminds me of some sort of creature peaking out of its burrow or a coiled snake (hopefully not ready to strike!)


One of the important steps in the brioche making process is the final rise - if it’s too short, the end result isn’t that wonderful light, airy and oh-so delicious creation on which you’ve spent a decent amount of effort. Especially during the winter months in my 69º kitchen, I’m careful to give the dough plenty of time, sometimes up to 2 hours, for that all important rise.

Note that since brioche is such an enriched dough, the rise may not be as obvious as that of lean breads, but you should be able to appreciate the increased fullness and puffiness of the risen dough.


These baked at 375º F for about 20 minutes - all nice and golden brown.


Once cooled I opted for an orange cream cheese glaze that set these babies off with just the right touch. Delicious. Soft, delicate crumb, light and wonderful.


Here’s the recipe for my orange brioche dough, yield 1320 g / approximately 2.9 lbs.

  • 537 g flour, half bread and half all purpose

  • 90 ml whole milk, cold

  • 90 ml water, cold

  • 5 large eggs, cold

  • 11 g salt

  • 68 g sugar, divided in two portions

  • 18 g instant yeast

  • 255 g unsalted butter, cool and pliable, medium diced

  • 1 tablespoon orange zest (from 2 medium oranges)

  1. Place flour, milk, water, eggs, salt, yeast and half the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low to incorporate then knead on speed 2 for 5-7 minutes until you have a strong dough using the windowpane test.

  2. Add the second half of the sugar and knead for 2 more minutes.

  3. Add butter bit by bit on speed 2. Once all added, knead for 8-10 minutes until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl and sheets nicely.

  4. Place the dough in a lightly floured bowl, tuck plastic on and around the top and let it rest for 1 hour at room temperature.

  5. Fold the dough gently, place it back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. De-gas 2-3 times over several hours then refrigerate overnight.

  6. Proceed with dividing and shaping as noted above . For these orange rolls I divided the dough into fifteen 42 g portions, using about half the dough (a full batch would give you 30 rolls!). You don’t have to use all the dough - just tightly wrap any unused dough with plastic wrap and freeze for later.

  7. Once the knot rolls are shaped, cover lightly with buttered plastic wrap and let rise 1.5-2 hours depending on the temperature of your kitchen.

  8. Heat the oven to 375ºF and bake for approximately 20 minutes until golden brown.

  9. Cool before icing.

For the icing I blended 227 g / 8 oz softened cream cheese, 2 T corn syrup, 2 T heavy cream, 75 g / 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, pinch salt and the zest from one medium orange. You may not need all of it - it keeps in the fridge, covered for a week or so.

I used my leftover glaze on some petite citrus financiers. Deelish. Now go have some brioche fun!


Salty chocolate chunk shortbread


A big thanks to our Rhode Island friend Gigi for sending me the link to the NYT recipe from Alison Roman for these addictive buttery, crispy, chocolate chunky shortbread cookies. Right up my alley!

I did tweak the recipe a bit as I am wont to do, using dark instead of light brown sugar, reducing the total sugar a bit and subbing in some whole wheat pastry flour for a portion of the all purpose flour. I love the nutty, caramely-ness of the end result. Yummy.


While Alison’s process involves shaping the dough into two logs, chilling then rolling in demerara sugar and slicing, I opted to wrap my dough in discs, chill then roll out and cut with my favorite fluted round cutter. A sprinkling of flaked sea salt and raw sugar on top adds a wonderful crunchy component.


Here’s my version of the recipe:

255 g salted butter, cool and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
80 g granulated sugar
50 g dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250 g all purpose flour + 75 g whole wheat pastry flour
170 g semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped in chunks (I used a combo of Guittard 61% and 72%)
Raw sugar and flaky sea salt for sprinkling

  1. Beat the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle on medium high for 3-5 minutes to lighten and fluff-en it up.

  2. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, slowly add the flour followed by the chocolate and mix until blended.

  3. Divide the dough into two or three portions, wrap in film wrap and chill about 2 hours. Note: hold the dough well wrapped in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for a couple of months.

  4. Line sheet pans with parchment and heat oven to 350ºF.

  5. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface and cut shapes of choice. Sprinkle tops with raw sugar and flaky sea salt. Continue to roll/cut scraps or wrap and freeze any leftover dough for later.

  6. Put sheet pans in the freezer for 10-15 minutes before baking.

  7. Bake until lightly browned, 12-15 minutes. Cool and enjoy!


Whole wheat croissants


As I experiment more and more with whole grain flours, I just had to do a trial of croissant dough with a couple of variations on using whole wheat flour. Just can’t get enough of the laminated dough thing, or so it seems. Oh well, there are worse things to be fixated on, don’t you think?


The first version adjusts my base recipe from 450 g all purpose flour and 50 g bread flour (recipe coming at the end, I promise!) to a mixture of 300 g spelt flour and 200 g whole wheat pastry flour, both from Bob’s Red Mill. The spelt I used is a coarse grind and gave my dough a speckled look. I was hoping that my choice of those two flours would sort of balance each other out in terms of gluten content, giving me something closer to all purpose but with the nutritional benefits of using whole grain flours. Kinda winging it here.

The second version uses a mixture of 300 g white whole wheat flour from King Arthur (a finer grind than the spelt and a softer flour from soft white wheat) and 200 g whole wheat pastry flour from Bob’s Red Mill (another softer flour), yielding a smoother appearance with less speckling. Again - wingin’ it.

I normally use whole milk for my liquid but this time I replaced about a third of the milk with water, thinking that the final, slightly less enriched, nutty-wheaty croissants would lend themselves to more savory uses like ham/cheese or chicken salad sandwiches. I know, I know - this isn’t a very scientific study since I’m changing a number of variables, but why not play around? It’s what I love.

My two dough versions and butter blocks ready to go

My two dough versions and butter blocks ready to go

I put both versions through the usual steps of beurrage followed by three business letter folds (or 3-folds) and a final rest in the fridge before rolling out. I divided each batch into halves so I could create two different pastries with each version.

The spelt dough rolled nicely but when it came time to cut and shape the croissants, the dough felt drier and was not quite as sturdy, tending to tear when being stretched a bit.

Shaping the spelt croissants

Shaping the spelt croissants

With the second half of the spelt dough I did a savory spiral - rolled it out into a 10”x12” rectangle, brushed it with egg wash and sprinkled on mixed Italian herbs and grated gruyère cheese . . . .


rolled it up into a log and sliced ~1 inch slices.


The slices went into buttered 80 mm rings to proof.


The white whole wheat version also rolled out easily and was less inclined to tear when being stretched and shaped.


The second half of this dough became cherry-almond spirals - same idea as the cheese/herb spirals above - spread on a mixture of almond flour, egg white and brown sugar and topped it with cherry preserves and sliced almonds.


Rolled up and sliced, these went into buttered muffin tins to proof.


I gave the croissants a good 2-2.5 hours to proof and the spirals a bit less. Then on to the bake!

Proofed spelt version

Proofed spelt version

Out of the oven

Out of the oven

I gave the proofed cheese spirals a sprinkling of more cheese . . . .


and here they are all baked up!


I gave half of the egg washed white whole wheat croissants a sprinkling of KAF’s Artisan bread topping, a delicious mixture of sesame, flax, sunflower, black caraway, poppy and anise seeds.



all baked up

all baked up

Cherry almond here we come! A sprinkling of raw sugar and into the oven.


Once baked I rolled them in some vanilla sugar for the pièce de résistance.


Steve and I did a thorough sampling of all four versions. We thought the flavor was deelish and the texture pretty decent. Personally I love the nuttiness and whole grain sense of these doughs and would definitely make whole wheat croissant dough again.

I froze a good portion of the baked and cooled end results, and we were able to enjoy the croissants and cheesy spirals thawed and oven warmed with a delicious chili Steve made for a family supper out at cousin Jen’s. Everyone enjoyed them immensely. Who says you can’t have a croissant for supper eh?

So what did I learn from all of this? Truth be told, I had done some reading before the project but had neglected to consider the need for some increased hydration when using all whole wheat flour. Duh. Hence I did a thorough read through of very helpful tips and suggestions from the Whole Grain Council/KAF - so much information out there kids!

Going forward I now know to add an additional 2 teaspoons of liquid per cup of whole wheat flour used. It’s also important to work the dough more gently and shape more loosely since the germ and bran in the whole wheat flour can actually shred the gluten strands in the dough, weakening it (it was very clear to me with the spelt version that it was drier and much more prone to tearing).

Whole wheat doughs generally ferment a bit faster (more nutritive stuff in them for the yeast to munch on) but don’t achieve quite as much volume. I did give my dough the same amount of rising time that I normally give my regular croissants but did note that the rise didn’t appear quite as full. Yet I was very happy with how they baked and tasted in the end. YES indeed.


Here’s my standard base croissant recipe with adjustments for whole wheat:

450 g all purpose flour + 50 g bread flour (option 300 g white whole wheat flour/200 g whole wheat pastry flour)
44 g sugar
18 g salt
50 g soft unsalted butter
16 g instant yeast
317 g whole milk, can be cold or room temp (add 35 g additional liquid if using whole wheat flour - may be a mix of water and milk)
283 g unsalted butter for the butter block

  1. Blend flours, sugar, salt and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer.

  2. Stir in milk (milk/water if using) with a rubber spatula or dough whisk to roughly combine. If using whole wheat flour let the mixture sit for 20 minutes to hydrate before proceeding.

  3. Mix with the dough hook on “stir”, adding the 50 g soft butter to incorporate.

  4. Increase to speed 2 and knead for 3-4 minutes (2-3 minutes if using whole wheat flour).

  5. Place on a lightly floured work surface, cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 30-40 minutes.

  6. Shape into a ball, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight.

  7. Shape the 283 g butter into a 4-5 inch square (I do this between two layers of plastic wrap). The butter should be cool and malleable for the beurrage.

  8. Perform the beurrage followed by three business letter folds, resting the dough 30 minutes between each fold. Let the finished dough rest at least 2 hours or up to 12 hours before final shaping.

It’s not my intention here to review all the steps and nuances of making laminated dough, proofing and baking croissants but primarily to share the dough recipe. Now it’s time for you to experiment on your own. Go for it! You can do it.


2019 - here we go!

Chocolate chip brioche swirls

Chocolate chip brioche swirls

Wow! We’re already a full week into 2019, and I’ve baked barely a thing, much less written a blog post. After the busy-ness of the mid-November through Christmas hustle and bustle, I’ve been taking a little stay-cation and easing into the New Year. You know - tidying up the house, putting away holiday decorations, starting some financial summaries for tax time (THAT’S vacation you ask??), working on a jigsaw puzzle, going for my walks and contemplating the weeks and months ahead.

I recently learned that in France it’s not proper to wish anyone Happy New Year until January 1st and then you have the entire month to express that particular wish. But come February 1st - nuh-uh, not allowed. So I still have plenty of time, right? Happy New Year everyone!!

At the start of a new year it’s fun to go back over the past year and look at various projects completed and goodies baked. Here are just a few.

My current favorite cookie - Raspberry almond thumbprints

My current favorite cookie - Raspberry almond thumbprints

Maple  pots de crème  with maple walnut shortbread

Maple pots de crème with maple walnut shortbread

Quiche Lorraine -mmmmm good!

Quiche Lorraine -mmmmm good!

Raspberry pistachio spirals and  chausson aux pommes

Raspberry pistachio spirals and chausson aux pommes

Pistachio orange cakes with orange honey Swiss meringue buttercream

Pistachio orange cakes with orange honey Swiss meringue buttercream

Caramel apple  tarte

Caramel apple tarte

Cheesy  gougères

Cheesy gougères

Blueberry custard buns

Blueberry custard buns

Melt-In-Your-Mouth chocolate cakes/white and dark ganache

Melt-In-Your-Mouth chocolate cakes/white and dark ganache

And Let’s not forget the ever favorite  croissant aux amandes

And Let’s not forget the ever favorite croissant aux amandes

Just before Christmas I returned to Sur La Table here in Grand Rapids as Pastry Chef Instructor. So far, so good - macarons, croissants, cast iron desserts (tarte tatin, cherry/chocolate bread pudding, bananas foster) - and more to come in the upcoming weeks. Each month’s schedule almost always has macaron and croissant classes, with seasonal variations in the other baking topics offered. Just visit Sur La Table’s class page to see what’s on the calendar. While the chef instructor schedule isn’t posted until a week ahead, chances are I’ll be teaching a decent percentage of the baking and pastry related classes. Hope to see you there!

So what might 2019 bring? As I age and we experience the loss of the generation before us as well as some of our own generation, it becomes more and more clear how important it is to enjoy each day, take care of ourselves, revel in the company of family and friends and remain upbeat about the future and all that we have. As Steve often says “life is short - go to Paris”.

And of course, here’s to many new baking adventures (sorghum flour anyone?), continuing to learn and teach others this craft that I’ve come to love so much.

Once again - a big Happy New Year to all!

Raspberry custard  tartelettes

Raspberry custard tartelettes

Fresh fruit tarts

Four Inch T artes individuelles

Four Inch Tartes individuelles

West Michigan is known for it’s grey skies and lack of sunny days during the winter months, but lately I’ve been making a variety of fresh fruit tarts which simply add their own version of sunshine and brightness to the seemingly dreary weather. The good news is when we do have a sunny day, it’s a beauty! And some of our sunsets are absolutely gorgeous. Ahhhh . . . . there’s something about a Michigan sky.

Tartelettes Petits Fours

Tartelettes Petits Fours

While I’d prefer to use fresh local summer berries and stone fruits for my fresh fruit tarts, we’re fortunate to have pretty decent berries coming to us from California as well as citrus and all manner of tropical fruits from various parts of the country and the world. It’s interesting that most requests I receive for fresh fruit tarts happen during the winter months. I guess it’s just that desire for something colorful and delicious, and there’s nothing wrong with that!

TWO and a half inch   T artes individuelles

TWO and a half inch Tartes individuelles

I love the pinkish-orange of the Cara-Cara variant of the navel orange - just like one of our beautiful Michigan sunsets, especially when paired with the brilliant red of raspberries. And the blackberries lean more toward the end-of-sunset dusk when things start darkening into the deep purple hues of the night sky.

Nine inch  Tarte

Nine inch Tarte

The nuts and bolts of this type of tart include a standard pâte sucrée crust, a classic crème pâtissiére and, of course, an assortment of fresh fruit. Whatever suits your fancy.

Especially when I’m assembling a large tart, I like to do a mock up of my fruit lay out before actually placing the fruit on top of the crème. Here I’m using raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and Cara-Cara citrus. You might notice the pomegranate seeds at the top - I didn’t end up using them for my own aesthetic reasons (artistic license, right?).

Working on the layout

Working on the layout

Assembly in process

Assembly in process

I must say that finishing a fresh fruit tart gives one quite a sense of satisfaction. And, of course, one hopes that the recipients will be just as satisfied!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone. Here’s to many more baking adventures! And may you enjoy your own sunsets wherever you are.