Mocha custard tart

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Fall is definitely in full swing here in west Michigan, even though we've had some unseasonably warm days of late. But we'll take it! Winter will be here soon enough.

This weekend's dinner for the Galloway household consisted of Steve's layered onion/carrot/garlic/chicken/potato dish oven-cooked low and slow in our Staub enameled cast iron cocotte. Mom contributed a spinach strawberry salad, and I opted for a tart recipe I've had my eye on for awhile. I mean really, it's all about tarts for The Tarte!

I believe I've previously mentioned Alice Medrich's book Flavor Flours which I discovered in our local library some months ago. I've since purchased my own copy and am so satisfied with the recipes I've made so far. The book focuses on a number of alternate flours like teff, sorghum, chestnut, rice, oat and corn as well as nut flours (which I am totally on board with!).

The tart recipe calls for a GF teff chocolate crust, but I opted to use my stand-by chocolate short dough from the CIA's Baking and Pastry book. It was the first book I purchased after completing my Diplôme de Pâtisserie and mon stage in Paris in early 2007. Even though it's an older 2004 edition I still turn to it time and time again for all sorts of tips, techniques and recipes.

And I've been using this chocolate short dough ever since. 

Tart ring lined and ready to bake

Tart ring lined and ready to bake

After fork-pricking the dough all over, chill the lined ring in the freezer for 15 minutes or so while heating the oven to 325ºF. The chill stabilizes the butter and helps the dough keep its shape during blind baking. Line the firm dough with a round of parchment, fill it with dried beans and bake for 12-15 minutes with weights, then another 5-8 minutes without weights. The crust should be set and look dry. Remember - it's your job to watch what's going on in that oven!

All baked and ready to fill

All baked and ready to fill

Lower the oven temp to 300ºF for the next phase of the project.

Just a note here. If you'd like to change things up a bit, you can use any pie or tart dough your little heart desires - choose your favorite pâte brisée or pâte sucrée (and it doesn't even have to be chocolate) or even a chocolate wafer or graham cracker or toasted coconut crumb crust. Add some chopped nuts if you want - you decide. Just remember to blind bake it first.

The KEY part to this tart is THE FILLING, and, once you make it, you'll know what I mean. So easy and so deliciously smooth it involves heating 1.5 cups heavy cream, 130 g sugar, 35 g cocoa powder (Dutch process or natural) and 55 g unsalted butter in a saucepan on the medium heat, stirring until everything is blended and it starts to simmer around the edges.

Remove from the heat and whisk in 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder and 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract. Set aside.

Once the blind baked shell is out of the oven, whisk 1 large egg plus 1 yolk into the cream mixture and pour the filling into the hot crust. It's pretty loose so steady yourself for gentle placement into the oven without sloshing. You can do it.

Filled and ready for the oven

Filled and ready for the oven

Bake for 10-15 minutes or even longer. I baked mine around 18-20 minutes before I was content with a nice wiggly/jiggly custard without waves rippling across the surface.

Cool on a rack and serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Here's my cooled tart - kinda reminiscent of a moonscape don't ya think? 

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While Alice dusts her tart with cocoa powder I was going for a bit more pizazz. I usually have some baked cookie or streusel crumbs in my freezer to use at a moment's notice whether it's to top ice cream, add a crunchy layer to a cakey-creamy type of concoction or to garnish a tart. Yup.

Out came the chocolate shortbread cookie crumbs which I sprinkled over the top of the tart, leaving a clear edge around the periphery.

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Next up -crème Chantilly! But of course. Steve claims that anything is better with whipped cream on it, and, in this case, he was absolutely right. But then I pretty much knew that already.

For one cup of heavy cream I add 1-2 tablespoons powdered sugar and a splash of pure vanilla extract. Whip to medium soft peaks, enough so it will hold its shape, and spread or pipe as you wish.

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Soft, pillowy mounds of cream like a string of rustic pearls entice us to dig in. And dig in we did.

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This is one of the BEST fillings I have had in a long time. Smooth, luscious, creamy yet light with just the right intensity of chocolate and a hint of espresso - aaaaahhhhh. And the chocolate short crust, chocolate crumbs and whipped cream provided just the right marriage of textures and flavors. Oh boy.

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Yes there were leftovers but the good news is this will keep covered in the fridge for a couple of days. Don't waste a bite of this one folks.

Before I leave you I'd like to share a few autumn images from our corner of the planet. Enjoy the season wherever you are and take care.

Pita bread

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Oh how I love the smell of freshly baked bread. No matter how often my attention turns to pastries, I still come back to bread - whether I'm reading various bread baking books or actually working with bread dough with my own two hands - it's such a rewarding process.

For the past few weeks we've been providing a weekend meal for my cousin Jen and family as they care for my Uncle John at home ( he's recovering from a stroke and a fractured hip.) Last weekend Steve made an excellent chili recipe from NYT and baked some rice to go along with it (rice and beans, don't ya know?!). Mom provided a fruit salad medley, and I decided pita bread was just the needed addition to the meal.

I've been contemplating flat breads for awhile now, especially after a delicious supper of grilled naan topped with burrata, avocado, roasted tomato, corn, salad greens and pesto vinaigrette at Dick and Dor's in Massachusetts over Columbus Day weekend. What a wonderful combination of flavors and textures. Thanks D&D!

I reviewed recipes from my various bread books as well as online resources and debated over naan vs. pita. As I read and absorbed the steps for these goodies, I opted for pita for my first foray into flat bread (although it's really a lot like pizza after all!).

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The pita preparation process involves either baking in a very hot oven on a baking stone or preheated sheet pan or cooking in a skillet on the stove top. Both involve flipping the pita half way through and cooking one or a few at a time. As I contemplated opening a hot oven and flipping a number of baking pita, I opted for the cast-iron-skillet-on-the-stove-top approach.

The online recipe I chose was very straight forward. Containing water, yeast, olive oil, salt and flour, the dough came together beautifully in the stand mixer, and, after a 5-6 minute knead, felt lovely, springy and soft.

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After a 1 1/2 hour rise, covered in a lightly oiled bowl the dough is turned out onto a floured work surface and divided into approximately 80 g pieces. I had doubled the recipe that typically makes 8 pita, so I ended up with 16 pieces.

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Each piece is formed into a nice ball and they're all covered with lightly oiled plastic wrap to rest for 30 minutes.

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Each rested ball is then patted into a circle about 1/4 inch thick and rests for another 5 minutes. I shaped all my circles and layered them on a parchment sheet pan so I'd by ready to go.

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Although the recipe instructed brushing the cast iron skillet with olive oil and heating to medium-high heat, I soon learned that it was way too hot with lots of smoking going on. Whoa baby, time to turn it down!

I did burn a couple of them (that's why I made a double batch, heh, heh) until I finally reached just the right low heat.  I cooked each one about 2 minutes on the first side during which the puffing begins, then flipped it over to cook for another couple of minutes until lightly golden.

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While the one-by-one cooking process seemed a bit daunting at first, it actually went pretty well once I got the hang of it and was very reminiscent of crêpe making. At Steve's suggestion I also put my non-stick ScanPan skillet into service which gave me a dual cooking process for quicker results. Yeah.

Once cooled I cut one in half and was able to separate the edges for a real pocket. Cool!

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I know, this one is a touch over done, but still deelish!

I know, this one is a touch over done, but still deelish!

The bottom line: the end result was soooo good! For the first tasting test I tore a couple up into pieces, dipped them in some hummus and had some roasted tomatoes on the side - man oh man!

Later that evening with our chili and rice dish, I cut them into strips for a perfect vehicle, either to spoon a bit on or dip them into the bowl. 

Definitely a keeper.  

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Here's the recipe for 8 pita breads:

1. Place 7 gm instant or active dry yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer and add 1 cup tepid water (~100ºF) and 130 g all purpose flour. Whisk together and let stand about 20 minutes during which this loose sponge will begin to bubble and foam.
2. Add 1.5 tablespoons olive oil, 7 g salt and 228 g all purpose flour (I used half all purpose and half white whole wheat) to the sponge and mix with the dough hook on low speed until incorporated. Add up to 1/4 cup additional flour if the dough is especially sticky.
3. Knead on low speed for 5-6 minutes until springy and soft, then turn out onto a floured work surface and form into a ball.
4.Lightly oil the bowl with 1/4 teaspoon olive oil, place the dough ball in and turn it around to coat it, cover the bowl with cling film and let rise 1.5-2 hours until doubled in size.
5. Place the dough on a floured surface, pat into a rectangle, divide into 8 pieces of about 80 g each and form each into a ball. Cover with lightly oiled cling film and let rest 30 minutes.
6. Pat each ball into a circle about 1/4" thick and let rest about 5 minutes.
7. Brush a cast iron skillet with olive oil and place on medium-low heat. Place pita bread in skillet and cook about 2 minutes then flip over and cook another 2 minutes. The bread should puff up and develop some golden brown spots and blisters. Flip again and cook another 30-60 seconds.
NOTE: if smoking happens and your pita starts to char, turn the heat down! Lesson learned.
8. Repeat with all pita and stack them on a plate tented with foil. Once cooled, enjoy!

I froze some of the cooled pita and enjoyed one a few days later, toasted, with hummus. Yup.

Why don't you give it a try?

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Tartelettes aux myrtilles et tarte aux prunes

Petite blueberry (myrtillestartlelettes
Plum (prunes) tarte
While I'm still on the summer fruits kick, I'd like to introduce you to just two of the many fruit-custard tarts that you can create pretty easily. Pâte brisée on hand in the freezer, summer berries or stone fruits of choice, a straight forward custard filling and off you go!



Michigan blueberries have been in plentiful supply (and wouldn't you know - I now have a number of bags stashed in my freezer).  They're especially tasty when baked into custard, so why not some tartlettes!


First I made my favorite pâte brisée using the by-hand flaking method with a couple of three folds for good measure. The process makes for such a wonderfully buttery, crisp yet flaky crust that is simply fantastic with custard and fruit. Visit this post for ALL the details.

You can make double or triple recipes of the dough, divide, wrap and stash in your freezer so you're ready to create to your heart's content. How great is that?!

For the custard, as is typically the case, one can find many versions of fillings out there in cyber space. Some involve simply whisking the ingredients together, pouring the custard over the fruit in your blind baked shell then baking til set. No stovetop prep there.

I opted for the stovetop method for a classic crème brulée type of custard. Heat the dairy (can be all cream or a cream/milk combo) in a saucepan, whisk egg yolks and sugar in a separate bowl, temper the yolk mixture into the dairy, then strain and set aside until ready to fill your tart. I went a step farther and cooked it to the anglaise stage before straining.

I just had to grate some fresh nutmeg and throw a pinch of coriander into the mix - so good with blueberries.

For my tartelettes I blind baked the pâte brisée in small brioche molds, popped in three berries, poured the custard over and baked them until the custard was set.

Once cooled, a dusting of powdered sugar adds just the right touch. Serve and enjoy.



Local yellow plums

My plum version came about due to the NEED to use up some ripe plums in my fridge. When browsing at the Fulton Farmers Market, I try sooooo hard to buy only the fruit that I'm pretty sure I'll use up quickly. Best laid plans  . . . .

I went with a variety of greenish-yellow, peachy and red fleshed plum varieties for this project . . .


and had just the right amount of dough on hand for my 16 cm square open tart form.

Lining a square form takes just a bit more finesse than a circle, since it's important to get the dough properly tucked into the corners. Dock the dough with a fork . . . .


then place the pan into the freezer while heating the oven to 400ºF.

Line the frozen dough with parchment, fill with dried beans or ceramic weights and bake for 12-15 minutes. Remove the weights and parchment then pop back into the oven for another 5-7 minutes until lightly golden.

Reduce the oven to 325ºF and proceed with final assembly.

Blind baked and ready for final assembly

I sprinkled some almond flour on the crust, placed the multi-colored plum slices just so . . .


and poured the custard over until it reached just below the top edge of the dough.


A final sprinkling of vanilla sugar and into the oven it goes.

Bake about 25 minutes until the custard is set and there's some browning and a hint of bubbling from the plums.

Just out of the oven

After a few minutes, lift off the tart form and finish cooling to room temperature.

Check out that flaky dough

Steve and I had a small sample after our pizza supper. Wonderful buttery, crisp crust, luscious custard filling and tartly sweet plums - yes indeed.

In a nutshell, here's the recap/ custard recipe.

  1. You choose what size and shape you'd like your tart or tartelettes to be.
  2. Have your pâte brisée ready to go (Visit this post).
  3. Roll your dough to about 3 mm thick and line your chosen tart tins or forms. Prick the dough all over with a fork and place in the freezer while you heat your oven. Pâte brisée bakes best at high heat, 400-425ºF.
  4. In general, blind baking requires 12-15 minutes with weights, then another 5-10 without until nicely golden (watch what's happening in that oven of yours!!!).
  5. Decrease the oven to 325ºF.
  6. You'll have to eyeball the fruit quantities you'll need for your given size. The tartelettes are easy - a few berries each. For the 16 cm square I used about 350 g of fruit - choose your favorite berry, stone fruit or combination thereof and have it prepped and ready to go.
  7. For the custard, heat 1 cup heavy cream and 1/2 cup whole milk to barely simmering. 
  8. In the meantime whisk 4 large egg yolks and 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a separate bowl; temper in half of the heated dairy, then return all to the saucepan and cook to the anglaise stage (82ºC or 180ºF). NOTE: I added a skosh of freshly grated nutmeg and good pinch of coriander.
  9. Strain into a 2 cup Pyrex-type pour spout container and set aside.
  10. Sprinkle a shallow layer of almond flour on the bottom crust, arrange the fruit to your liking, then pour the custard over til it reaches just below the top edge of the crust.
  11. Bake about 8-10 minutes for tartelettes and about 25 minutes for larger tarts until the custard is set with a hint of a jiggle in the center.
  12. Let cool.
  13. Enjoy slightly warm or at room temperature.
  14. Best eaten the day it's made but will keep covered in the fridge for a day or twol
Enjoy!!






Jalousie aux abricots et pêches

Hints of fall are in the air here in West Michigan - perfect baking weather. Yes sirree.

But even though we've turned the corner into September, there are still plenty of delicious Michigan summer fruits just calling out to be baked into something wonderfully luscious. Apricots and peaches to name just two.

Jalousie

is literally translated as jealousy, but, in spite of my attempts at finding out why this particular pastry carries that label, the answer eluded me. I did see one reference to it being of 

Provençal

origin, although when I went back to review that reference, I couldn't find it again. My oh my.

There's another version known as

dartois

 that is usually filled with

crème d'amande

along with fruit, although

 dartois

appears to be used interchangeably with

jalousie.  

Call it what you will, it's tasty.

In a nutshell it's a puff pastry case with slatted top, filled with fruit that is usually macerated or caramelized on the stove top with a bit of butter and sugar. Apricot is a classic and that's what I went for.

I reviewed a number of recipes and came up with quantities of puff pastry and fruit that suited my vision of the final product. The fact of the matter is that you decide how large or small you'd like to make your

jalousie

so there isn't really a specific recipe one has to follow.

I planned to use about 800 g of fruit and, since I didn't have quite that amount in apricots, I supplemented with a couple of peaches that were just waiting in my fridge.

I pitted and sliced the apricots and peaches . . . . 

then sautéed the sliced fruit in 70 g butter and 70 g vanilla sugar to caramelize it. The apricots were so ripe that they broke down and produced a lot of juice, so I ended up straining the fruit-butter-sugar liquid off and cooling the fruit on paper towel to absorb any remaining liquid. I didn't want my

jalousie

to be soggy.

Oh my! Now what could I do with this bowl of deliciousness? I think I'll blend some into my homemade caramel sauce and see what THAT's like. Why not, eh?

While the fruit cooled I rolled out my favorite from scratch puff pastry and cut 2 rectangles approximately 28x11 cm each. Each piece weighed about 150 g, rolled out to about 3 mm thick. 

Start with slightly more than you need so you can trim up the edges as necessary. And be sure to save any scraps - they're great for making

palmiers

or rolled out as a crust for quiche or flan.

This should give you some guideline to determine how much dough you might use for a larger or smaller end result. Sometimes it simply a matter of experimenting and figuring it out. 

Fold one of the pieces in half lengthwise and cut slits about an inch or so apart, leaving the edges uncut.

Unfold it and set aside.

Place the other piece of puff on a parchment lined sheet pan, sprinkle with some almond flour (to help absorb any juice and protect the bottom crust) and top with the cooled fruit, leaving about 2 cm clear around the edges.

 Brush the dough edges with a little water, place the slatted top over the fruit, press the edges together to seal and crimp with a fork.

I like to brush mine with a bit of milk and top it off with a sprinkle of vanilla sugar.

Freeze it for 20 minutes or so while heating the oven to 425ºF.

Bake about 25 minutes until puffed, golden brown and the fruit is bubbly.

Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Steve and I enjoyed a piece with some of my homemade peach ice cream - buttery, flaky, a hint of tartness to the apricot yet married so nicely with the sweetness of the peach - SO GOOD.

I kept the rest covered lightly with parchment paper at room temperature over the next couple of days. It was still good with morning coffee, especially warmed for a few minutes in the oven.

This one's a keeper.

Angel food cake


For the week of my mother's 90th birthday she had requested angel food cake with ice cream and fresh peaches for dessert. So it was absolutely time to make my first from-scratch angel food cake, something I've been contemplating for months!

I used my mom's classic angel food tube pan that's been in her hands for I don't know how many years - at LEAST 55 is my best guess. Maybe even 60!! She even has the small glass bottle that used to hold Welch's grape juice, a favorite drink of ours when we would take our sandwiches to eat outside in the summer time.

Even though the little metal tabs around the rim of the pan allow one to perch the cooling cake upside down, the bottle has that certain je ne sais quoi that seems to go with baking an angel food cake. Right Mom?


The tradition exists in our family of being able to choose our birthday meal, including cake of course. My sisters Joyce and Mary (and perhaps ME?) used to choose confetti angel food cake with colored frosting - pink or blue were faves. Truth be told I was more of a pound cake fan and would follow Mom's lead on the necessary ice cream and peaches accompaniment when it was time for my special day. 

Back in those days the confetti creation came out of a Betty Crocker box and was all the rage. After a bit of research I learned that BC's angel food cake mix was first introduced in 1953, followed by a "one-step" version in 1960, the one I suspect my mom made fairly regularly, at least for birthday requests.


I used a recipe from Mary Berry of "The Great British Bakeoff, Master Class" series and found it very straight forward. It's basically a stiff meringue to which some flour and additional sugar is added. It's all about beating the meringue to the right stage and being gentle with the folding in of the flour and sugar.

Now THAT's a stiff meringue

Ready for the pan

The batter goes into the UNgreased tube pan, since you want the cake to cling to the sides of the pan as it bakes.

Ready for the oven

It bakes for about 45 minutes at 335ºF conventional OR 300ºF convection (or "fan" as the Brits say on the GBBO).

Out of the oven and ready to be turned upside down

The pan was a bit tippy sitting on top of that little glass bottle, but I was able to support the pan edges with a couple of upturned drinking glasses that were just the right height.

Once cooled completely, out of the pan it came.


Sliced and served with my own homemade peach ice cream and fresh sliced peaches, it was delicous. The crumb soooooo light and airy and the cake with just the right amount of sweetness. A perfect accompaniment to creamy ice cream and one of our favorite local fruits.



Here's the recipe.

Have a standard ungreased 10" tube pan at the ready.

Heat the oven to 335ºF conventional or 300ºF convection.

Do your ingredient mise en place:

  • 10 large egg whites (remember meringues beat better when the eggs are at room temp).
  • zest of 2 lemons
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 200 g caster (superfine) sugar (remember you can whiz standard granulated sugar in a grinder briefly to make your own superfine version).
  • 125 g all purpose flour
  • 100 g caster sugar

Follow the steps:

  1. Place egg whites, zest, cream of tartar, salt, lemon juice and 200 g caster sugar in a mixer bowl and beat on high using the whisk attachment until frothy.
  2. In a separate bowl mix the flour and 100 g caster sugar together and gently fold into the meringue.
  3. Place the batter in the ungreased tube pan
  4. Bake approximately 45 minutes (remember all ovens are different - pay attention to what's going on in there) until golden brown.
  5. Cool upside down.
  6. Remove from pan, slice and enjoy!
Happy Birthday Mom!!



And a big THANKS to Mary Berry too!!

Ice cream! Glace aux pêches, chocolat-amande, framboise-fraise, noix de coco-citron vert


Summer has certainly been in full swing and what better way to enjoy the season than to make some homemade ice cream. Absolutely!

I was on a major roll with this project, that's for sure. Part of it was spurred on by the fresh peaches and berries available at our favorite Fulton Farmer's Market.


And part of it was the realization that family was coming to visit for my mom's 90th birthday celebration. Having several flavors of ice cream in the freezer seemed like just the thing for any impromptu dessert needs.


I've mentioned in previous posts that I've been using an ice cream base recipe from David Lebovitz for many years now. It's so straight forward and allows one to come up with all sorts of flavor options. He talks about infusing flavors, add-ins before the churning step and mix-ins at the end. SO GOOD.

The base contains 2 cups cream, 1 cup milk, 5 large egg yolks, 155 g sugar and a pinch of salt. The preparation method is that of a basic crème anglaise, cooled over an ice bath and then refrigerated for some hours or over night until ready to process. I love making the bases a day or two ahead so they can cure and thicken in the fridge, plus I have two canisters for my Cuisinart ice cream maker always at the ready in my freezer. 

Bring it on!

Peach was definitely at the top of the hit list.



When incorporating certain fruits in ice cream there's the possibility that the end result may be a bit icy. David suggests peeling and slicing the peaches, cooking them until they're nice and soft then puréeing them. I added just a whiff of sugar and a splash of lemon juice to my pound-and-a-half of peaches and was very happy with the end result. Once my chilled base was ready to process, I blended in the cooled peach purée and churned away.

The peach flavor comes through nicely in this creamy, fresh summery treat. I served this one with my from-scratch angel food cake (YUM!) and some sliced fresh peaches. How can one go wrong with that combo?!

Of course it's great on it's own, one luscious spoonful at a time.

Now for chocolate almond, two of the most lovely flavors that one might put together, whether it's in ice cream or some other delectable baked good or chocolate confection.





This version took a little more time since the warmed dairy is first infused for an hour or so with a cup and a half of coarsely chopped toasted almonds. The only downside is that the almonds are discarded after the dairy is strained. Kind of sad.

BUT!! There's hope after all. Next time I'll rinse 'em, soak 'em in water overnight and make my own NUT MILK! I've been dying to try it. And an even more beautiful thing is once the almonds and water are ground and the milk is strained through cheese cloth, the almond meal can be spread out on a baking sheet, dried in the oven and used in baked goods. Now THAT'S a good deal all the way around.

In this case, once the ice cream base is cooked to the anglaise stage, 4 ounces of chopped and melted bittersweet chocolate (at least 60% is recommended) and 1/4 cup Dutch process cocoa are added to the warm mixture before cooling.

In addition, after the ice cream was processed, I mixed in coarsely chopped Ghiradelli 60% chocolate chips and some of my ground almond nougatine.


Now THAT made for a delicious finished version of creamy, chunky delight.


Next up - framboise-fraise!




With this version I prepared the strawberries in a similar fashion to the peaches mentioned above. Hull and cut up about 3/4 pound strawberries, add a couple of tablespoons of sugar and a splash of lemon juice and cook them on the stove top until somewhat thickened and jam-like. Then purée them and chill.

Since I was going for a strawberry-raspberry combo, I also puréed and strained about 8 ounces of fresh raspberries and added them in to the chilled base along with the strawberry purée. Then it's simply a matter of processing to a shear perfection of summery, berry goodness. YES.

Last, but not least, (although this was Steve's least favorite of the bunch, don't ya know!) is coconut lime.



For this version I infused the dairy with 170 grams of toasted coconut and the zest of two limes. After straining, proceed with the usual base prep, chill it over the ice bath and blend in 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed, strained lime juice. 

After churning, this one also got a mix-in of additional crushed toasted coconut to add another dimension to the mouth-feel experience. Quite frankly, in spite of Steve's lack of excitement, I found it nicely lime-y and coconut-y. I gave it a thumbs up.

There's just nothing like homemade ice cream! Now YOU come up with your own favorite flavor combos. You can do it!


Happy summer everyone!

What? Vegan raspberry dessert!



Steve and I met up with some of my old high school chums for dinner earlier in the summer. I was on the "what to bring" list for dessert and was up to the challenge when I learned that one couple is vegan and another long time friend is following a very restrictive diet, including no gluten. So what's a French style pastry chef to do?! Create of course.

On to the internet to research some options. I decided on a riff of a raspberry lemon chia "cheesecake" from the "Love and Lemons" blog. Curiously enough I also recently taught a vegan class at Sur La Table and found many similarities between this dessert and the one we made in class. The more I read about vegan desserts, the more I realize there are a number of ingredients that act as the base for many recipes. Cashews and Medjool dates are two of them.  While I don't plan to make many vegan desserts, it's good to understand the approach and what goes into them. It's all about learning.

This is basically a three layer dessert, and everything is raw. NO BAKING INVOLVED! Perfect for summer.

It's assembled in a basic 8"x4" loaf pan lined with parchment paper with a 1" overhang on each side.

First the walnut crust. 


This called for Medjool dates, but I used dried apricots instead (had 'em in the house, don't ya know). It's very simple. Measure 1 cup walnuts, choose 4-5 dried apricots and pop them in a food processor with 1/2 tablespoon coconut oil and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt. Process until crumbly then press into the lined loaf pan.


Pop the pan into the freezer while you make the "cheesecake" layer.

"Love and Lemons" gives two options for this layer. The first involves raw cashews soaked for 4 hours, drained and blended with a variety of other ingredients similar to option two. I chose the second option which utilized a store-bought vegan cream cheeze in place of the cashews.

Blend 8 ounces plain vegan cream cheese with 1/2 cup full fat coconut milk, 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, a tablespoon lemon zest and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.



Pour the filling over the walnut crust and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours.




The raspberry layer is thickened with chia seeds, but, since I didn't have those in my larder, I researched other ways to set a vegan dessert. Coconut flour is one of those thickening options, and guess what? I had some coconut flour at the ready.

Combine in a blender 12 ounces raspberries (fresh or frozen, either way), 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons maple syrup and 2 tablespoons coconut flour mixed with an equal amount of water. Blend until smooth and pour over the frozen "cheeze" layer.


Freeze 4 hours or overnight.

When ready to serve, remove from the freezer about 20 minutes ahead, allowing it to thaw a bit. Lift it out of the pan by the parchment lining, slice and place on plates, letting the slices thaw another 15 minutes so they're not icy.


I must admit this was delicious! Cool and creamy with a nice lemony berry tang. And the group loved it too!  

Enjoy!




Cherry almond cornmeal cake and pecan toffee shortbread stars

OK. I admit I've been on a cherry kick lately, but we're in Michigan, it's summer and there are lots of fruits to be had. Yum.

Enough said perhaps? Probably not, cuz we're in blueberry heaven right now along with currants, raspberries and blackberries. And we still have peaches, plums, apricots and more coming!


Before July comes to a close I wanted to share the goodies I had made for our July 4th celebration out at Clear Bottom Lake, one of our regular family gathering spots. Better late than never, right?.

With cherries on the brain I opted for my own cherry almond cornmeal cake topped with cherry mascarpone cream. And why not!

As if that weren't enough, I was in the mood for delectable all butter shortbread cookies, thinking stars would be just right for the classic American holiday. Sandwiched with orange honey buttercream? Absolutely!


First the cake. 



A straight forward preparation very reminiscent of many cake recipes one can find out there in the baking world, this one includes almond flour and cornmeal with the all purpose flour so there's a nice hint of crunch going on. Plus there's some buttermilk to add just the right tang. And of course some chopped sweet cherries are folded into the batter.

I baked the cake in individual silicone molds and decided to dress these babies up with cherry mascarpone cream and caramelized almond crunchies.

I puréed some cherries . . . .


and folded the purée into a half and half mix of mascarpone whipped with heavy cream. A bit of added powdered sugar and vanilla gives it just the right light sweetness.


Pipe a nice swirl of cream on the cake and voila!


I made some almond nougatine by cooking 3/4 cup sugar with 2 tablespoons of water to an amber caramel, then stirring in 3 ounces of toasted almonds and spreading the mix out on a Silpat to cool.  Then grind it all up and you have a delicious crunchy addition to almost any dessert you can imagine.

It makes plenty for this purpose, but leftovers can be frozen in a zip top bag for other uses.





Now the cookies.


These shortbread came about as a result of my receipt of some leftover pecan toffee crumbs from Patty, the owner and chocolatier of Patricia's Chocolate in Grand Haven MI.

I used a similar base recipe to my standard shortbread, adding in a hint of cinnamon as well as the pecan toffee crumbs. Boy oh boy these are good! 

I wanted to gussy them up and happened to have some orange honey buttercream in my freezer. And thus it was that a stunning combination was born.



Delicious.

Now for the recipes.

Cherry almond cornmeal cake with cherry mascarpone cream and almond crunchies.

Cake:
  • Heat oven to 350º. Butter a 9" springform pan or use individual silicone molds of choice.
  • Stem and pit 3/4 pound of sweet cherries then cut into quarters. Set aside.
  • Melt 113 g (one stick) unsalted butter, let cool a bit then in a medium bowl whisk together with 1/2 cup buttermilk, 2 large eggs and 1/4 teaspoon almond extract.
  • In a separate bowl whisk together 130 g all purpose flour, 32 g almond flour, 70 g cornmeal, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander.
  • Blend the wet ingredients into the dry. Fold in the cherries.
  • Transfer batter to prepared pan or pipe into silicone molds.
  • Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 45-55 minutes. NOTE: if using small silicone molds baking time will be decreased. 
  • Let cool.

Mascarpone cream:
  • Blend 113 g/4 oz mascarpone with 120 ml/4 oz heavy whipping cream. 
  • Add 1-2 tablespoons powdered sugar and a splash of vanilla extract. 
  • Whip as you would whipped cream to achieve medium soft peaks. Don't over whip or it will become grainy. 
  • Blend in 90 g puréed cherries. 
  • Refrigerate until ready to use.

Almond crunch: 
  • Cook 3/4 cup sugar with 2 tablespoons water to an amber caramel. 
  • Stir in 3 ounces toasted almonds. 
  • Spread out on a Silpat to cool then grind in a food processor.

Pipe decorative swirls on cake tops. If serving later, refrigerate and remove from fridge 30 minutes before serving to allow cake to come to room temperature. Sprinkle with almond crunch and serve.


Pecan toffee shortbread cookies:
  • In a mixer bowl blend 212 g room temperature unsalted butter with 75 g granulated sugar.
  • In a separate bowl mix 260 g all purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and a pinch of salt.
  • Add flour mixture to butter/sugar mixture and blend until it comes together.
  • Blend in 100 g pecan toffee crumbs (a gift from Patty so I don't know the exact recipe for these!) In a pinch you could substitute a mix of toasted, chopped pecans and some chopped Heath bar.
  • Wrap dough and chill at least an hour then roll out and cut shapes of choice.
  • Bake on parchment lined sheet pans at 325º for about 12-15 minutes (watch your oven!)
  • Let cool then fill with desired filling. You'll find many recipes on line for Swiss meringue butter creams - use your flavor imagination and create your own!!
Whew! That was a mouthful. Literally.

Both treats were enjoyed by the group at Clear Lake, especially the pecan toffee shortbread. Yes.

Happy VERY belated 4th everyone!!


Thanks for reading Baking with the French Tarte. See you next time around.







Michigan fruits galette



Here we are in the thick of summer, and the beautiful fruits of Michigan are in abundance (with more to come!)

The rustic galette is one of my favorite fruit offerings during these not-so-lazy days, for life has a way of taking us on a whirlwind whether we like it or not.

While we've been busy with some home remodeling, I continue teaching at Sur La Table and baking my shortbread cookies at Patricia's Chocolate in Grand Haven, a lovely Lake Michigan community that attracts many tourists during the summer.

Yet in spite of the busyness of our days there is something that gives me pause - the ever ongoing passing of the generations. Our Aunt Fran Van Halsema (wife to my mother's brother Gerard) died on July 14 - the same day as the birthday of my sister Mary and our maternal grandmother Nellie. In the past 15 months we have experienced the loss of now five aunts and uncles on both my mom's and dad's sides of the family tree.

Let's remember to make the most of our days and seek out those things that give us a sense of peace and accomplishment. It's important, oui?

Baking is one of those things. The feel of the dough, the aroma of a lovely tart as it comes to the end of the bake, the luscious fruit and browned, buttery crust as one takes a bite and the sense of a job well done. Yes.


A galette (crostata in Italian) is so easy to prepare. Simply use your favorite pâte brisée or pâte sucrée, roll it into a circle of about 10" (or choose what size you'd like - bigger, smaller, it's up to you) and place it on a parchment lined 1/2 sheet pan. Then, in the center of the dough, pile about 4.5 cups of fresh fruits (I used blueberries, sweet succulent yellow plums and sweet cherries) that have been tossed with sugar to taste and a bit of flour as thickener, along with some lemon zest and a grate or two of nutmeg. Give yourself a good 2" edge of dough and pleat it up around the of the fruit which should remain visible in the center.

Brush the dough edges with egg wash or a bit of cream, sprinkle with raw sugar and place in the freezer to firm up and stabilize the butter in the dough while you heat your oven to 425ºF.

Bake about 20-25 minutes (don't forget to watch what's going on in there!) until the crust is golden brown and the fruit is bubbly and juicy.

Let cool for a bit and serve still warm or cool all the way and eat later. It's best the day it's made but will reheat pretty nicely the next day too.  And don't forget the vanilla ice cream. Yeah boy.

A wonderfully delicious and straight forward summer dessert. And it's even good for breakfast.


Now my kitchen awaits, eager for the next baking adventure and blog post. In the meantime, as my husband Steve so often says, "life is short - go to Paris". Well said Steve.

Smashed potato rolls


Some weeks back for the Memorial Day gathering at Clear Lake we planned to bring brats and sausages from Kingma's market (good stuff by the way) for the main course. There was also a potato contest in the works to see who might create something that could hold a candle to one of the family favorites, cheesy potatoes.

Steve planned to make his famous potato galette, and I wanted to contribute something potato-y as well. Hey! How about potato rolls to go with those delicious brats? Why not.

Embarking on my potato roll quest, I reviewed a couple of recipes that used roasted potatoes in the dough but ended up with a dinner roll recipe from King Arthur Flour that seemed like just the ticket.

Back during our Vermont days we would often prepare and enjoy food with friends Ross and Candi Walton. Candi always referred to mashed potatoes as "mashies", a term we have used now for many years when referring to that particular dish.

For this roll recipe I boiled up some Yukon Golds and gave them a rough mash - something I like to refer to as "smashed". I think Candi would be on board with that one, don't you?


Let me tell you! This recipe process was molto interessante as the Italians would say. I pretty much followed the KAF recipe (it'll come, don't worry), aside from reducing the egg a bit, but what really tangled me up was the lack of any guidelines for the kneading time of this starchy, enriched dough. Soooooo sticky!

I kneaded it for 8 minutes in my Kitchenaid stand mixer then gave it a 30 minute rest with an every 10 minute stretch and fold over. It was still pretty sticky so I gave it another 6-7 minute mixer knead. Frankly I wasn't quite sure where I was with this dough.

But I plowed ahead, placed it in a lightly greased bowl covered with plastic wrap and let it rise about 90 minutes.


I had intended to make hot-dog style buns, but, when it came to dividing and shaping the dough, I found it simply wasn't behaving the way I had hoped. It remained quite sticky, so I tried both the flouring-the-surface-and-hands method and the oiling-the surface-and-hands method to be able to handle this interesting dough. Both worked - sort of.

First I created 75 g pieces, gave them an initial boule shape, let them rest 5-10 minutes and then attempted to roll them into hot-dog, log-like shapes. Nuh-uh. It was not happening.

So I reverted to the boule roll form and persevered. FYI - I almost gave up on this one.

Once shaped and placed on a parchment lined sheet pan, I gave them a 1.5 hour rise until puffy.

I heated the oven to 350ºF and baked 20-25 minutes until nicely browned.

Hmmmmm. Maybe this will work after all.


They felt REALLY soft once cooled, but, not to be thwarted this far into the process, I decided to let them sit overnight covered with parchment.

Boy howdy! These babies were delicious. A wonderful soft texture, delicate flavor but with enough structure to hold up to a good turkey-lettuce-mayo sandwich. Yum.

Steve declared them unfit for brat use (not the right shape don't ya know), so into the freezer they went and we've been enjoying them since. Burgers, sandwiches. It's all good.

Now for the recipe. Going against my usual grain, I'm providing this in good ole measurements as opposed to metric weights. It just feels right here.

2 large eggs (I backed that off to about 1.5 eggs)
1/3 cup sugar (I made this one a scant 1/3 cup)
2 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons butter, soft
8 ounces smashed potatoes (unseasoned), at room temperature
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
3/4 cup lukewarm water, preferably water in which the potatoes were boiled. I used half potato water and half milk.
4 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour (King Arthur of course - after all, this is I recipe I found on their website!)

1. Mix and knead all the ingredients to make a smooth, soft dough. No time frame is given so I winged it as described above.

2. Place dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise about 90 minutes until doubled in bulk.

3. Gently deflate the dough and divide into desired sized pieces. For a good size hamburger bun I used 2 5/8 ounce or 75 grams with a yield of 16 rolls. Round each ball into a smooth roll.

4. Place the rolls on parchment lined pans, cover lightly with greased plastic wrap and let rise 1.5-2 hours until quite puffy. Toward the end of the rise preheat the oven to 350ºF.

5. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and feel set. Remove from the oven and transfer to wire racks to cool. (Option - brush with melted butter)

6. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store well wrapped in plastic for several days at room temperature or freeze (what I did).


All I can say it there is so much to learn about bread baking. I recently purchased Jeffrey Hamelman's book "Bread" and have just begun delving into it. So much detail, so many variables and so many ways to make delicious bread. 

With this recipe I based my kneading time somewhat on the fact that this is an enriched dough with butter, egg, and sugar, reminiscent of lean brioche. It seemed like a longer kneading time was the thing to do. Was that the right approach? I'm not sure. All I know is they taste good and that's what counts!


Cherry blueberry yogurt cake


Recently my mom and I took a drive to my childhood hometown of Fremont, Michigan to visit former neighbors and family friends, Gerry Frens and her daughter Mary.  Gerry will be 100 years young this fall, and she and my mom (who will turn 90 in August) love reminiscing about those days of yore.

Just a few years apart in age, Mary and I chat away about all manner of things while our mothers talk and talk.

We planned to share afternoon tea with them, so, of course I volunteered to bring something baked to accompany our beverage. Always looking to use up the odd lingering ingredient in the fridge, I decided on a cherry berry cake to which one of said ingredients, yogurt, would be added.

Some years ago I developed a collection of fresh fruit cake recipes that I used to bake at Gerrish's cafe in Winter Harbor ME during my first summer job out of pastry school. They're easy, versatile and allow one to mix and match ingredients and fruits depending on your whims.

Even though we're anticipating the arrival of local Michigan fresh fruits at the farmer's market, we are getting some beautiful Washington state cherries and some decent Georgia blueberries in our go-to Meijer grocery store.  So cherry blueberry just had to be the choice!



This is a pretty basic cake made by the usual method of whisking the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl, creaming the butter and sugar/citrus zest until fluffy, adding eggs one at a time along with vanilla. Then fold in the dry ingredients alternating with yogurt.

In this case, once the batter is smoothed into a buttered and parchment-papered 9" cake or springform pan, it's baked at 350ºF for 15 minutes. During that time the fruit topping is put together by tossing about 7 ounces fresh fruit with a tablespoon each of granulated sugar and all purpose flour.

The fruit then goes on top of the partially baked cake with the idea that the batter will have set enough to allow the fruit to stay pretty much on top. In my case I also sprinkled some pistachio crumble over the fruit.

Here you see it ready to go back in the oven.


Pop it back in and bake for another 25-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Here's what happened to mine! Sunken fruit. Oh man.


Not to worry. Once I unmolded it I could at least see some fruit around the edges.



And once sliced there was plenty of fruit in each piece. Yay!


Served with a dollop of Chantilly cream with a fresh cherry perched on top, this was lovely, moist and delicious. And the group liked it. Double yay!!


Here's the recipe, quick and dirty.

Heat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9" cake or springform pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.

In a medium bowl whisk together 143 g all purpose flour, 30 g almond flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon coriander.

In a mixer with the paddle attachment cream 85 g unsalted room temperature butter and 200 g granulated sugar into which the zest of one lemon has been rubbed (LOVE citrus zested sugar!!).

Add 2 large eggs, one at a time, until just blended. Blend in 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

With a rubber spatula fold in half the dry ingredients followed by 2/3 cup plain yogurt (choose your own fat content). Fold in the remaining dry ingredients.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes.



Meanwhile toss a total of about 7 ounces fresh fruit(s) of choice with 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 tablespoon flour. Fruit prep will depend on the fruit you choose. For example halve and thinly slice fruits like peaches or plums. Blueberries or raspberries can be left whole. I pitted and halved my cherries. You get the idea.

Place the fruit on top of the partially baked cake then bake for an additional 25-30 minutes until a toothpick or skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool for about 15 minutes then remove from the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature. I like a light dusting of powdered sugar to give it that je ne sais quoi.

The cake keeps well in a covered container for several days. It's great with whipped cream or even ice cream if you want to be a bit more decadent. Or eat it plain as an accompaniment to your morning coffee or tea. Not bad at all.


Here are just some of the ways you can make this recipe your own: substitute corn meal or a different nut flour for the almond flour; add different spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger (you decide); sub in sour cream or crème fraiche for the yogurt; use brown sugar instead of granulated sugar; add orange or lime zest instead of lemon; and of course choose your favorite fruit.  

Summer's here and it's time!



Fresh asparagus, Fulton Farmers Market and pizza


The Fulton Farmer's Market is back in full swing for the season, and we've been drawn to the fresh asparagus for the past couple of weeks. So good and soooo springy!   

Steve's favorite veg vendor is Visser Farms located in Zeeland. He usually scores the fruits of their labors throughout the market season, particularly potatoes (German butterball being one of his faves), carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and green beans (we LOVE fresh Michigan green beans in the summer!!).



On to the subject at hand.

Let's not forget that I do like to wander off into the savory baking realm every now and then, for life is not only about pastry, right? Pizza dough is one of those things I typically have stashed in the freezer for those days when pizza sounds like just the ticket.

First let me mention the dough. Back in 2006 when I was going to Apicius in Florence for my first semester of baking and pastry, Steve and I frequented an English bookstore there. At one of our visits we found a newly released book (I have no idea which one) by Jamie Oliver which was accompanied by a mini-book of sample recipes that was available for purchase. And purchase it we did.

His pizza dough recipe is one I've been using ever since, save for the occasional trial of a new recipe, just to see if I might want to make a change. I always seem to come back to his.

While I typically mix and knead by hand, lately I've taken to using my Kitchenaid stand mixer for the first part of the kneading and finishing it off by hand. LOVE the feel of dough.

Here's the recipe in a nutshell. To 650 ml tepid water add 14 g dry yeast (instant or active dry, either one) and 1 tablespoon sugar, mix with a fork and let sit for a few minutes. Meanwhile place 800 g bread flour and 200 g semolina in a mixing bowl along with 1 tablespoon fine sea salt; give it a quick whisk up with a fork.

Using the dough hook, turn on med-low speed and drizzle the wet ingredients into the dry. Here's where I make my own addition to Jamie's recipe of 2 tablespoon olive oil. Knead on med-low speed for about 4-5 minutes then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and continue kneading for another few minutes to achieve a soft, springy dough.

Cover with cling film and let rest about 20-30 minutes at room temperature. I divide the dough into six 283 g (10 ounce) pieces, wrap them individually, pop 'em into a zip-top bag and freeze.

If using the dough immediately, roll it out on a lightly floured surface, place on your oiled sheet pan (or baking stone or baking steel or whatever you're using), top with your favorite pizza goodies and pop into a 500º oven.

Pizza is one of our favorite ways to use up fridge left overs like grilled chicken or pork (thinly sliced for pizza purposes) and chunked up roasted potatoes. We generally add in some fresh veggies like tomatoes and shaved broccoli followed by a topping of grated cheese.

This time - fresh asparagus. Yippee!

It was a simple matter of cutting the lovely green stalks into shorter pieces, peeling and slicing the stems in half and throwing them into the mix. No blanching ahead of time, just freshly cut and trimmed.




I've been using a good old 1/2 sheet pan for a long time - olive-oiled and dusted with semolina, then into a 500º oven for about 13-15 minutes.  Et voila!


We top our hot out of the oven pizza with some lightly dressed shredded or chopped up greens, basically creating a pizza and salad in one.


The presentation may not be the most artful, but boy-oh-boy it's good!

Some new flour ingredients



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

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

First off - coconut flour.

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

You decide.

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


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

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

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



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

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


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

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

And now - teff! 

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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


New York style bagels


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

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

All in an afternoon's work.

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

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

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

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

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

after the rise

Now comes the fun part!  Shaping - yes! 

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

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


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


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

First stick your thumb through the center.


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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


Looking good.


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



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

A tasty trio for spring

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


And now on to the baking portion of the program.


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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


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

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



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


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

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

Happy spring!


Easter desserts, happy spring and one more chocolate babka


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

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

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

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


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



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


Make a basic meringue, taking it to stiff peaks.


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



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


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



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

I declare this a winning dessert day - yay!

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

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


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


The swirls were okey-dokey when sliced too.


And you know what? Delicious.



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

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



Babka trial Part 3 - another chocolate pecan


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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




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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


The snail coil received its wash and streusel.


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


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


Let's hope for the best.

After a good cooling it was time for slicing.

First the plaited loaf.


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

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


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

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

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

Babka trial Part 2 - chocolate pecan


Not to be deterred by a less than stellar result with my first pistachio version babka, I decided to jump right back on the horse and give it another go.  This time - chocolate pecan.

Before attempting this again I scoured books and online sources and reviewed babka (or kranz
cake) recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi's "Jerusalem", Packer and Srulovich's "Honey & Co. The Baking Book", as well as David Lebovitz's version of the Honey & Co. babka.  I had already done Peter Reinhart's dough with a "Bake from Scratch" pistachio filling.

I was ready.



I ultimately followed David Lebovitz's version of the Honey & Co. recipe with a few tweaks of my own based on all the recipe versions I had reviewed.

I'm not here to outline the recipe but to talk about my experience with the process.  The dough came together nicely and felt absolutely wonderful! So soft and pillowy with a hint of what the end product might bring.


I formed it into a ball, placed it in a lightly oiled container covered with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight.


Below is what I had after the overnight rise - looks a bit puffier.  Remember this is a sweet dough and the rise may not be as pronounced as with a lean bread dough.


While the dough was warming up a bit I made the chocolate filling by melting 100 g unsalted butter in a saucepan, adding 150 g granulated sugar and blending to (mostly) dissolve the sugar. Off the heat I added 85 g chopped chocolate (70%), stirred to melt, then blended in 40 g Dutch process cocoa powder and a teaspoon of Vietnamese cinnamon. 

Please note!  The filling has to cool to room temperature so it's more paste like and easily spreadable on the dough, so plan ahead for that.

I decided to use pecans (rather than any of the other great nuts one might choose) so toasted and chopped 65 g of those.  I also followed David Lebovitz's path of using 65 g of my home made cocoa wafer cookie crumbs. Yum!

I rolled the dough out into an approximately 12" x 20" rectangle, spread the cooled, spreadable chocolate filling on, then topped that with the chopped pecans and cocoa wafer crumbs.  This was starting to look good.


This time I worked a bit harder at rolling a tight log.



Then I sliced it lengthwise down the middle and formed my braid.  Whew!  That went pretty well.




I was concerned that the braid was longer than my parchment paper lined loaf pan, but I plowed ahead and squidged (did I make that word up?) it into the pan to fit. By the way - this seems to be de rigueur in the various approaches I reviewed.


Will this turn out??!! Seems like a good deal of weight that has to poof up,  n'est-ce pas? 

During the two hour rise I went out for my daily walk and was happy to return to a decent looking pan of risen babka (or so I thought). 



I heated the oven to 350ºF (I used convection) then popped the loaf in for the recommended 30 minutes.  I generally check my goods about half way through the baking time and turn the pan to promote even baking.  It was looking pretty good.  After the 30 minutes I had my doubts as to how well the interior had baked.  I gave it another 5 or 10 minutes and thought the outside had browned quite nicely.

Even though my skewer placed into the middle of the loaf came out clean I was still a bit skeptical as to the extent of the bake - difficult to tell due to the chocolate filling/dough spiraled layers. But I took it out of the oven nonetheless.



Once out of the oven I brushed it all over with simple syrup which I had made a bit earlier with 100 g sugar, 125 g water and one tablespoon honey brought to a boil, boiled for about 4 minutes, then set aside to cool to room temperature.



I gave it a good 90 minute cooling before lifting it out of the pan by the parchment lining.  By that point the center of the loaf had collapsed, not usually a good sign.  Oh, oh. 

Slice into it I did and indeed found the center to be doughy and under baked.  Disappointing to say the least, but let's remember - it's all about learning.

I did have to wonder though - how DO those thin layers of dough and chocolate filling have the room to rise up under the weight of it all?


The good news is that I was able to salvage the exterior and end portions of the loaf so Steve and I could give this project a decent tasting.  In a word - delicious!!

The chocolate filling with the cocoa wafer crumbs was absolutely scrumptious, and the layers of dough were moist but not overly sweet.




I stored all the decently baked portions in a Tupperware container and we enjoyed them over the next couple of days - oh so tasty for a little sweet treat after lunch or for a mid-afternoon gouter with a cup of coffee or tea.

All in all not bad.  I'm considering one more babka go - they say the third time's the charm, right?

Why not - let's go for it!







Pistachio babka trial and a tasty bread pudding

It's been way too long since I've posted here, and I've been chomping at the bit to bake something different.




It's interesting how a certain thing tends to percolate to the surface, often by happenstance, and in recent months one of those things is babka, a yeasted bread-like coffee cake with origins in Russia and Poland. I've come across versions of it on line, both on Clotilde Dusoulier's "Chocolate and Zucchini" site as well as on the "Bake from Scratch" website.

Lately I've also been reviewing recipes from Peter Reinhart's "artisan breads every day", and, guess what?  There's a classic chocolate cinnamon babka just waiting to be tried. 

To top it off there's a chocolate babka recipe on April's Easter Baking class menu at Sur La Table where I've been teaching baking and pastry classes since last June.

Don't you think it's time to make babka!?

I wanted to make a pistachio filling version to use up some pistachio paste in my fridge.  I followed the recipe on the "Bake from Scratch" site and as I was making it, knew in my heart of hearts that it was probably too loose.  But use it I did.  Lesson learned.  After all, this was my first foray into the babka world so why not experiment, eh?

dough ingredients

Filling aside, Peter Reinhart's dough is a lovely soft, enriched sweet dough made as follows. Whisk 19 g instant yeast into 3/4 cup/180 ml lukewarm whole milk. Let sit for about 5 minutes. 

Cream 6 tablespoons/85 g unsalted butter (melted or soft room temp) with 6 tablespoons/85 g sugar on medium speed for 1-2 minutes. 

Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract to 4 egg yolks, add to the sugar mixture in 4 additions and mix on medium-high for a couple of minutes. 

Stop the mixer, add 3 1/3 cups/425 g all purpose flour and one teaspoon salt then the milk/yeast mixture. Mix on low for 2-3 minutes to achieve a soft, supple, tacky dough.  


Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for 2 more minutes. Form a ball.


Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for about 2 1/2 hours.


Here's the dough after the rise.


Now you can either move on to the shaping step or place the dough in the fridge (covered) overnight to be rolled out the next day.

I decided to go forward with the project and rolled the dough into a 15" x15" square.


I spread my loose pistachio filling onto the dough and rolled it up into a log. I must admit I was so focused on spreading and rolling the dough up that I completely forgot to take a photo before the log formation! Rats! But you'll see the filling soon enough.


I placed it on a tray in the freezer for about 10 minutes, hoping that the filling would tighten up a bit.  I was already envisioning the pistachio goodness oozing out as soon as I sliced my log lengthwise.  I was going for a free form twisted loaf rather than putting the braid into a loaf pan as many babka recipes suggest.

I accomplished the lengthwise slice, but it was looking pretty messy.


I gently and gingerly twisted the two pieces around each other, attempting to keep the cut sides up.


Hmmmm . . . . This might work, but what's going to happen during the final rise? Yikes!

I covered the loaf loosely with plastic wrap and gave it another 2 1/2 hour rise at room temperature.  Here it is ready to go into my preheated 350º oven.  A filling mess looms ahead!


About 20 minutes into the bake I took it out and cleaned off some of the partially baked oozed filling from along the sides of the loaf. Otherwise it looked like it was browning nicely.  Maybe there's hope after all . . . . .


After about 40 minutes total baking time I thought it was ready. It certainly is well browned, that's for sure. The French call that bien cuit. I brushed it with vanilla simple syrup for a bit of sheen.


After some cooling I sliced into this interesting piece and found that my layers were pretty much non-existent.  As I suspected, a lot of the pistachio filling had oozed out during baking.



Yet . . . . . The flavor was delicious!  A nice dense yet soft and tender crumb along with a hint of pistachio. Not so bad after all. The next morning we warmed up a couple of slices and spread 'em with some raspberry jam - quite tasty indeed.

Now I'd really like to have another go at the whole babka thing.  I'm looking forward to creating one with a drier chocolate-y filling and a nice twisted spiral of dough. I've reviewed several more recipes, and I know it can be done.

For this first attempt I ended up creating a bread pudding.  I cubed up the babka (about 6-7 cups) and made a custard with two cups whole milk, 1 cup heavy cream, 2 tablespoons melted butter, 1/2 cup sugar, 3 large eggs and some vanilla and almond extracts.

I placed the cubes in a buttered 9x13 Pyrex dish, poured the custard over and let it soak in the fridge for about 8 hours, pushing down the cubes a couple of times to keep them soaking. 


I sprinkled some coarse sugar and freshly grated a bit of nutmeg on the top, then baked the pudding in a 350º oven for about 45 minutes until set.




For a family supper at Mom's I served it warm with my homemade orange and vanilla scented ice cream and a sprinkle of chocolate-graham crumble.  So delicious!

So stay tuned for the next babka bake. It promises to be a good one. Can't wait.


Happy Valentine's Day!

Sharing love and enjoyment with those who mean the most to us is just one of the things to remember on Valentine's Day. 

I love to share with all of you the joy that comes from creating delicious treats.

Here are just a few.

Matcha raspberry hearts


Apricot linzer cookies


Tart cherry, double chocolate, salted caramel shortbread hearts

Chocolate hazelnut financier

Once these little cakes are turned out of the mold, there's a wonderful well just waiting to be filled with something delicious.


Praliné ganache and candied hazelnut garnish

Here's a pistachio version filled with dark chocolate raspberry ganache and garnished with a tiny swirl of raspberry butter cream and crowned with candied pistachio.


One chocolate and one pistachio went into small purple boxes with red ribbon - so cute!


I ended up making 4 flavors of shortbread (double dark chocolate, tart cherry, praline and matcha) and tucking them into red boxes with purple ribbon.


For a pre-Valentine's family gathering I did a slight variation on the chocolate hazelnut financier by filling them with dark chocolate ganache and topping with a swirl of whipped milk chocolate ganache and candied hazelnut.


For the pièce de résistance I made a raspberry gateau Breton with a thin layer of raspberry jam baked between two layers of Breton dough.  Once cooled I topped it with whipped caramel mascarpone cream and garnished with raspberries, a light pink ruffle around the edge and some candied pistachios for some lovely color contrast.



Sweets for the sweet.  Happy Valentine's Day to one and all!

Enjoy.