Pumpkin scones

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When one has some pumpkin on hand for a certain project, invariably there is always some left. What to do with It? Make pumpkin scones, of course.

Before I go to the recipe, check out the plate above - the result of my first ever pottery wheel session with a local Grand Rapids potter, Kate Lewis. She does the pottery for one of our favorite restaurants, Sovengard and offers one-on-one wheel sessions for anyone with an interest in the craft. It was great fun - I shaped 3 plates, a cup and 2 bowls, one of which was pretty wonky but will serve nicely as a snack or nut bowl for those oh-so low key occasions. I chose the glaze colors and she did the rest. Et voila!

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For this treat I used my base scone recipe with a few tweaks (OK, a number of them!). As with all scone and biscuit recipes, keeping the butter, cream and egg cold and working quickly, efficiently and with purpose without overworking the dough is très important.

Here goes: Increase flour to 293 g / 2.25 cups ( I used 203 g all purpose and 90 g whole wheat pastry flour), increase sugar to 67 g / 1/3 cup (I used 33 g dark brown and 34 g granulated cane sugar), increase butter to 170 g / 1.5 sticks or 6 ounces, decrease heavy cream to 80 ml / 1/3 cup, add 1/2 cup pumpkin purée, add a yolk to the one large egg, add 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, some freshly grated nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. The steps are the same as the base recipe, adding the spices in with the dry ingredients and the pumpkin purée in with the cream and egg.

For baking I suggest doubling the sheet pan to protect the bottoms from darkening too much. It worked out well with these - lovely crisp outside, moist and tender crumb inside and a subtle taste of pumpkin and spice. One could certainly opt for a maple syrup/confectioner’s sugar glaze once cooled, although I went with a brushing of cream and a sprinkle of raw sugar before baking to achieve that wonderful exterior crunch.

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For my taste test I dolloped on some blackberry jam (although most any jam will do).

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Too bad the Steve-meister doesn’t like pumpkin. I brought some over to Mom for her enjoyment and popped a few in my own freezer for future breakfast treats for visitors. One can never be too prepared, particularly with the holidays fast upon us.

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Have fun creating your own treat with leftover pumpkin! So much to bake and so little time! Don’t ya just love that plate!!

Cinnamon knots

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Having been inspired by my recent purchase of Richard Bertinet’s latest book “Crumb”, I felt it was time to make some cinnamon knots with my own take on his approach to this tasty treat. Warming spices, brown sugar, butter, tender slightly sweet dough . . . aaahhh. Perfect for autumn which has finally arrived in its full glory. Too bad that once the the brilliant reds and oranges are making us smile, we get the winds and rains of late October and early November to blow them all down. It’s nature’s way.

For this project I utilized a basic cinnamon roll type sweet dough using a recipe I discovered on Ambitious Kitchen.com (minus the cream cheese frosting). Once the dough is mixed and undergoes the first rise, I roll it out into a 14”x15” rectangle and spread it with softened butter which is topped with light and dark brown sugars and cinnamon. With the 15” longer edge parallel to the edge of my worktop I fold the dough up onto itself and cut 1” wide strips.

Now it gets a little messy. Leaving the folded edge end intact, cut the dough the length of the strip and twist the two portions around each other. Then form knots. As you can see, the dry stuff fell everywhere, but I simply scooped it onto the shaped knots. Next time - mix the dry with the butter and spread away so it all holds together!

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Once all the knots are shaped, place them on a parchment lined sheet pan (cover loosely with plastic wrap) and give them a 30 minute rise while heating the oven to 350ºF.

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Bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown.

I opted for a light drizzle of a milk/confectioner’s sugar/vanilla extract glaze to give them a certain je ne sais quoi.

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These were wonderfully tender, buttery and cinnamon-y - the perfect treat for a blustery autumn day. I served them at a morning coffee gathering down the street, and they were a hit!

I’ve been very intrigued of late with various twists, coils, spirals, knots or whatever shape one might imagine when creating what I’ll refer to as a “sweet roll” for lack of a better term. As the holiday season approaches I hope to add some new crowns, festive twists and star shapes to my sweet dough baking projects.

It’s all about learning and experimenting!

The Bertinet Kitchen Cookery School, Bath England

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Wow! It’s already been a bit over two weeks since we returned from our UK trip. Without further ado I simply have to share our cookery school experience with you.

Richard Bertinet is a Frenchman from Brittany who has lived in England since 1988. In 2005 he not only opened his cooking school in Bath but also published his first book “Dough” which garnered a number of awards from the likes of James Beard, Julia Child, IACP and The Guild of Food Writers. Not bad, eh?

I discovered him in recent months while searching online for baking and pastry books, a pastime which I find quite enjoyable. He has recently published his 6th book “Crumb” which he described to me as an update and refreshing of many of the bread recipes in “Dough”. I bought a copy bien sür.

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When I learned that Richard has a baking school in Bath (an hour and a half train ride from London), Steve and I decided we had to include a visit there in our itinerary. I emailed the school and received a very welcoming response from Richard’s wife Jo who invited us to stop in for one of the bread classes. And so we did.

We arrived around 2 pm, the class having kicked off at 10 that morning. The 12 students had made their dough for the various breads (breadsticks, focaccia, fougasse and mini loaves), the dough had proofed nicely and it was time for shaping and baking.

Shaped  fougasse

Shaped fougasse

Richard working on  focaccia

Richard working on focaccia

It was truly enjoyable to see Richard interact with the class, having fun yet pointing out in an obviously knowledgeable and clear manner how things should be done. I picked up a couple of tips and techniques too. Love it!

The kitchen staff that day, Jen and Daisy, were kind, helpful and very tolerant of our presence. We did our best to stay out of the way but were also able to walk around the room and watch the students doing their thing.

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Once all the breads were out of the oven, a long communal table was set up for a group lunch to which we were kindly invited. Wine, charcuterie, platters of tomatoes/mozzarella/basil, fresh bread of course, cheeses and the star of the show for many - pork rillettes, a slow cooked shredded pork in fat and seasonings, typically smeared on bread. To each his/her own I say!

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If you’re planning a trip to England, Steve and I definitely recommend a visit to Bath. The Jane Austen center, the Roman Baths and the Abbey are just a few of the sites to visit. And if you love baking and cooking - need I say more? You know what to do.

Coming up - cinnamon knots, inspired by “Crumb”. Stay tuned!

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Sweet and savory croissant twirls

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Time for more croissant dough fun! Love it!!

Sweet and savory coming your way. Some months back I posted on this very topic using my whole wheat version of croissant dough. Classic croissant and spirals were the forms I went for then and now its time for - twirls!

There are so many shapes to be made from croissant dough, and, once you’ve mastered the base recipe and the nuances of lamination, there’s (almost) no limit to what you can create using different twists and turns. Twists + swirls = twirls!

First up - a savory version using my whole wheat croissant dough only this time I chopped fresh herbs (basil, thyme, rosemary) and added them right to the butter block before proceeding with the beurrage et tourage. Hence an herbed whole wheat dough was born.

I buttered standard muffin tins and coated the wells with finely grated cheddar.

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After rolling the dough out to 12” x 18” I spread the top half of the dough with a mixture of 60 g (2 large) egg whites, 50 g toasted bread crumbs, 1 teaspoon dry mustard and pinches of black and cayenne peppers. Then a good sprinkle of 5 ounces grated cheddar cheese (Barber’s vintage reserve and Prairie Breeze are two of my faves).

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Then the bottom half gets folded up over the top.

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Cut into one inch strips, twist and coil into twirls.

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Tuck into the prepared muffin tins, sprinkle a little extra cheese on top, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm space about 45 minutes. Meanwhile heat your oven to 375ºF.

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These bake about 20-25 minutes until golden.

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Pop ‘em out of the pan and let cool on a wire rack.

Taste time was a delightful treat of cheesy herby layers with just a hint of sweetness.

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For the sweet version I went for a coffee walnut theme. Using my basic non-herbed croissant dough, the steps are the same as outlined for the savory version. This time my filling is made with 3 large egg whites, 100 grams dark brown sugar, 80 g ground and 100 g coarsely chopped toasted walnuts, a tablespoon almond flour (for a bit more binding of the mixture) plus orange zest from one medium orange.

I prepped my individual cake pans with butter and espresso sugar (grind 1 tablespoon espresso powder with 200 g raw sugar).

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Roll out the dough, spread the top half with the coffee walnut filling and a light brush of egg white plus chopped nuts on the bottom half . . .

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. . . fold it up, cut strips, twist and swirl. While shaping keep a bit of a stretch on the dough as you go. The filling here is more gooey than the savory version - just forge ahead even though it seems as though stuff is oozing out. It’s OK!

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Tuck ‘em in the prepped pans, cover and let rise about 45 minutes. Heat that oven of yours to 375ºF and bake away!

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Once out of the oven, gently lift them from the pans and place on a cooling rack. I brushed them with some simple syrup for a nice sheen. Alternatively roll them in espresso sugar while still warm, let cool and enjoy.

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Coffee and walnut go so well together, and the coffee essence here was just right. The orange didn’t come through very strongly so I’d add more zest next time (you can never have too much zest!).

It’s great fun to dream up other ways to use croissant dough. I’m keeping my thinking cap on and so should you. Happy baking and happy autumn!

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Afternoon tea in the United Kingdom

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Steve and I recently returned from a wonderful trip to the United Kingdom, during which we spent some quality time with friends Richard and Pauline, visited a number of historic sites and enjoyed many travel experiences and foods. Check out Steve’s blog to read about our other adventures.

Leading up to our departure, afternoon tea was on my radar, prompting us to reserve spots for three, count' ‘em three, tea venues - The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, The Dorchester in London and The Pump Room in Bath. We also had a spur-of-the-moment lunch in the tea room aboard The Royal Yacht Britannia.

Get ready for it - here we go!

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The Balmoral in Edinburgh was first. We were pleasantly greeted by the staff and seated in the Palm Court along with a number of others who came to enjoy this traditionally British pastime.

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We started with glasses of Ruinart champagne as we perused the menu and made our tea choices. Interestingly they were still offering the summer menu even though it was late September, and let me tell you, it worked!

Hmmm . . . . I wonder what the autumn and winter menus are like.

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We were treated to a dazzling display of tea pouring, and when we asked our server how long it took her to master the technique, she reported just a few practice sessions before she was raring to go.

The amuse bouche of leek and potato soup was creamy and tasty, soon to be followed by our savouries and sandwiches.

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We had planned to try haggis at least once on the trip and this turned out to be the one and only time. On the top tier above - a small dollop of haggis tucked into a nice round of puff pastry was pretty darn good and paired nicely with the marjoram and sweet corn tartelette along side. Well prepared, nicely presented and, in a word, delicious.

The other sandwiches were classic afternoon tea offerings of The Balmoral’s take on cucumber, egg salad, coronation chicken, ham and smoked salmon. The small brioche roll with the egg salad was particularly delightful, although Steve and I must admit we’re not big smoked salmon fans so that one went by the wayside.

After a satisfactory post sandwich break our plain and fruit scones arrived accompanied by clotted cream and strawberry jam. Now I’m the first to tell you I love a good scone but these were too cake-y and dense for my taste (although the cream and jam helped!).

The desserts were definitely the piéce de resistance for me - spot on textures and flavors, particularly the praline cream on the crunchy topped choux and the buttery, crisp tart crust with the combo of cherry/pistachio/milk chocolate. The pumpkin spice version of opera was moist, creamy and nicely layered, but alas Steve doesn’t like pumpkin so he did not indulge. Poor Steve.

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We received some final treats as parting gifts - strawberry sorbet cones, tins of tea and a box holding chocolate and pâte de fruit. Not a bad way to round out the afternoon!

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Needless to say, we left satiated and wondering if we would even want dinner later on.

The next day we opted for the “Hop on, Hop off” city bus tour to get a lay of the land in and around Edinburgh. One of our goals was to visit the Royal Yacht Britannia which has been docked in Edinburgh since it was decommissioned in 1997. We took the self guided audio tour, making an unplanned stop for lunch in the tea room on the ship.

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I chose the cream tea special for one and Steve went for the mature cheddar sandwich (he did of course join me in a glass of the sparkling rosé). Note that cream tea, as it’s been explained to me, is typically tea with scones, clotted cream and jam so this luncheon version strayed a bit from that, offering a more hearty approach. Notice my sandwich came with either scone or cake, not both. In the end I chose the egg salad on wholemeal bread and a slice of lemon drizzle cake (one of the many popular cakes in Britain, very much like our glazed pound cake). Very tasty and quite a switch from the petite versions we had enjoyed at the Balmoral. We thought it a pretty perfect lunch in a very pleasant setting.

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White piano display in the Britannia’s tea room

White piano display in the Britannia’s tea room

We had a pause in our afternoon tea adventures until several days later when we arrived at The Dorchester in London to experience another mid-day repast. Rather unassuming from the outside (save for the Rolls Royces and Bentleys parked out front), the interior was a floral extravaganza within the portion of the hotel called The Promenade. Cushioned seating and tables lined the sides of the space and more seating ran down the middle. And the flowers - what a feast for the eyes!

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Looking down The Promenade

Looking down The Promenade

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While the tea menu was very similar to that at The Balmoral, the setting was definitely more sumptuous. We were seated along one side and soon had our glass of Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label Brut to sip and enjoy while we made our tea choices.

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The primary difference in the sandwich selection was the addition of a beef pastrami version to go along with The Dorchester’s take on the classic egg salad, smoked salmon, cucumber and Coronation chicken. We both thought the tastes and textures topped those of The Balmoral (the smoked salmon not withstanding). Plus they brought us a second round to boot!

See that glass carafe in the background? That’s a tea leaf “flower” steeping in hot water which would eventually serve as a palate cleanser after our sandwich course. Hmmmm . . . . interesting.

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We were also served a pre-scone treat that hadn’t been listed on the menu - a mango pineapple number, quite delicious indeed.

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The scones were pretty much identical to The Balmoral’s, earning only a small bite of each - too cake-y and dense for me.

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Finally - dessert!

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The Balmoral beats The Dorchester in this category. The chocolate mousse cube was lovely but the mandarin and nut tart didn’t even come close to the caramel nut tart that yours truly (if I may be so humble) makes! Raisins and some kind of gelée stuff in the mix just didn’t work for us. The yuzu tonka bean mousse on a jasmine biscuit was quite odd both in texture and flavor, and the caramelised apple and quince delice on a shortbread round too jelly like.

Nonetheless we did enjoy this experience in a beautiful setting in the heart of London.

We left The Dorchester and headed to Paddington station to catch our train to Bath in Somerset County where the following day it was time for lunch at The Pump Room in the heart of town.

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Reportedly one of the places at which Jane Austen hung out, the Pump Room has been around since the late 1700s. Adjacent to the Roman Baths, it is indeed a popular place.

Even though we had reservations, the staff seemed a tad distracted and disorganized at first. Once we were seated we had three different servers approach our table as though none of them were aware of what the others were doing. Oh well. It all smoothed out in the end.

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We had a variety of choices from the lunch and afternoon tea menus. Steve chose the fish cakes from the luncheon menu, but for me, having experienced two very classic afternoon teas already (Balmoral and Dorchester), it was time for something a little different.

While many of us think of a posh, classic tea experience when we hear the term “high tea”, in reality it has traditionally been more of a country style, rural “meat tea” at the end of an arduous work day out in the fields. Some say the “high” part of it comes from being seated at a higher table than the usual low lounging chairs from which an afternoon tea might be enjoyed. There you have it.

My high tea was intended to highlight the local apples of Somerset - perfect for this time of year. As you see on the menu below, one had a choice between cider and “apple rambler”. We learned that when the Brits say cider, they mean hard cider (as do the French). The apple rambler was a simple apple juice, more akin to American apple cider. When in Rome . . . . .

Since Steve and I ordered a couple of Kir Royales, I kept my apple choice on the juice side of the equation.

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Served on a rustic wooden board, it certainly spoke of being out in the English countryside.

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This was a most interesting repast. I had heard about Scotch eggs not too long ago, and friend Pauline had explained what they are just a few days before our arrival in Bath - essentially a softish boiled egg wrapped and fried in a breaded meat layer. This one was served with piccalilli, a mix of pickled, finely chopped veggies like cauliflower, celery, carrot, tomato, onion, sweet peppers and gherkins to name a few. The recipe varies from region to region and usually includes some mustard and a variety of seasonings depending on who’s making it. Whoever set up my board put the piccalilli next to the chicken fennel sausage roll instead of the Scotch egg. Oh my!

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I typically shy away from both fried and pickled foods, but I must say this egg and piccalilli combo was a unique and delicious experience. After all, part of traveling is to learn about and enjoy regional cuisines and customs, eh?

The chicken fennel roll was done up in a flaky puff pastry, had just the right fennel-y twist and paired well with the mellow onion chutney.

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Last but not least, the apple cake was served with a light clotted type cream and apple jam. The cake was moist with a light crumb and just the right hint of spices - definitely an autumn treat and a perfect ending to my Somerset high tea.

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Aside from all of these adventures on the tea trail there were many opportunities for a cuppa any time we felt the need. And we barely scratched the surface of all of the afternoon tea experiences available throughout the realm. It’s Great Britain after all!

You should go sometime. Cheers!











Oranais aux pêches

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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

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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!

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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!

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Chocolate caramel cream cheese trifle

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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.

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

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. . . . . 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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!).

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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!).

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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)

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Gâteau Nantais

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Strawberry shortcake

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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.

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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!

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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!

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Here’s to lots more summer berries. Enjoy!

Reine de Saba

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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.

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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!

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

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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.

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Two easy muffins: blueberry oat and mini pecan pie

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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.

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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.

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

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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 . . . .

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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.
Enjoy!

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

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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.

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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.

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

St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake

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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!

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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?

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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?

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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 . . . . .

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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.

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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.

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

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then spread it out gently, smoothly and evenly.

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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.

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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

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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!

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Chocolate hazelnut marjolaine

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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!

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

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

And as always - happy baking!

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Happy spring!

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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

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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!

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