Bûche de Noël


In preparation for a class I recently taught on making a traditional Bûche de Noël, I did some test runs of the process and created a petite log with a flourless chocolate sponge cake filled with whipped caramel mascarpone cream, coated with medium ganache “bark” and finished off with meringue mushrooms, pistachio moss and a dusting of powdered sugar snow. FYI - all of this just happens to be gluten free!

When making one of these babies, organization and planning are essential. The good news is pretty much all of the components can be prepared ahead. Meringue mushrooms will hold for a couple of weeks if kept in an airtight container in a non-humid environment. Bake the cake, fill and roll it a day or two ahead then finish up with glazing or frosting the log and completing the garnish the day you plan to serve. Cool!


Before you begin, decide what you would like to use for your components: cake (typically some kind of sponge or nut meringue that lends itself nicely to rolling up), filling (from simple whipped cream to Swiss meringue buttercream to your favorite fruit curd), “frosting” (often a basic medium ganache) and garnish (here’s where you can follow the traditional path or go a little avant garde with your decor.)

I’m not here this time to share specific recipes with you but to simply encourage you to do some research and come up with what works well for you. HINT: Prueitt and Robertson’s Tartine and Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible are two great places to start.

And if you really want some inspiration, check out this link to some of the Bûches de Noël in Paris this season. It’s an entirely different world out there folks!

Below is a view of the table where four talented bakers created their own versions of the traditional holiday yule log.


It was lots of fun plus everyone was able to take their end result home. Yay!









A big thanks to those who participated in the class.


In the holiday cookie kitchen


It’s that time of year folks! Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, it’s time to focus not only on holiday cookie assortments but other seasonal treats as well. So many options - how does one decide?! Check out the menu page for this year’s holiday treat offerings.

There’s a nice mix of all-butter shortbread cookies to choose from, each flavor packaged in individual tubes. What wonderful treats to tuck into goodie baskets or stockings.


Or choose your favorite 2 or 4 flavors to go into a holiday ribboned gift bag - a great way to give a little something as a hostess gift or to delight your friends and co-workers.

 Choose your flavors 2-flavor gift bag

Choose your flavors 2-flavor gift bag

On the non-cookie side of things, try out this delicious crispy bark made with Guittard 61% chocolate, toasted sliced almonds and my own caramelized puffed rice - oh so good!

 Chocolate almond caramel rice crisp

Chocolate almond caramel rice crisp

Packaged in 5 ounce gift bags, it’s a great addition to any holiday foodie assortment. And - get this! It’s gluten free and vegan to boot!!

 Can’t go wrong with this one

Can’t go wrong with this one

For something a little more special, check out this limited edition cookie box filled with 4 different buttery treats: citrus snowballs, cocoa hazelnut drops, almond raspberry thumbprints and English toffee shortbread. Oh my.


Simply packaged for the season, it’s a delicious way to make someone in your life feel extra special.


Here’s to a non-stressful, happy and healthy holiday season!

This year's Thanksgiving tarts


Thanksgiving is fast approaching and now’s the time to decide what you’d like on your holiday dessert table! Visit the menu page for all the details for this year’s tarte offerings. For those of you in the greater Grand Rapids area, orders will be accepted through Saturday, November 17 so don’t forget to add it to your to-do list!

This year I’m offering pumpkin custard with sesame crunch, pecan caramel chocolate truffle and apple cranberry with brown sugar crumble in both 9-inch and my “sharing” 5.5 inch size (seen in the photos above and below) for those of you who might prefer petite portions or are hosting or joining a smaller group for the holiday this year.


Let’s take a look at how these babies are put together, shall we? BTW - even though the images depict smaller tarts, the discussion is for making standard 9 inch tarts.

First up is pumpkin custard. Use your favorite pate sucrée recipe and add about 30 g toasted sesame seeds at the end of the dough prep. Blind bake the crust at 350ºF and set it aside while preparing the filling. Note: tart dough recipe is enough for two 9” tarts - wrap and freeze any extra for another time.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325ºF.

Make your favorite crème pâtissiére, adding 1-2 teaspoons or so of pumpkin pie spice mix (I use my own made-up mixture of spices) to the milk base. At the end of cooking blend in 1 cup pure pumpkin purée, 4 tablespoons of butter and two teaspoons vanilla extract. This base is more than enough for one 9 inch tart but you can use leftovers to make a bunch of mini-tarts or fill cream puffs. You can even divide what’s left into ramekins and bake them in a water bath for a lovely pumpkin custard for after the holiday.


Fill the blind baked tart shell with the warm pastry cream, just barely shy of the rim and bake for about 20 minutes until set with a hint of a jiggle in the center. I did several test batch sizes as you can see below.


Let cool then store covered in the fridge until ready to serve. In my case I garnished with whipped honey mascarpone cream and a sprinkling of sesame crunch. For a slightly different approach, change out the sesame seeds in the tart dough with toasted, finely chopped hazelnuts, almonds or pecans and use the same nut as a simple garnish with lightly sweetened whipped cream. Or simply leave out any dough additions and create your own version of topping.

 Pumpkin custard tart

Pumpkin custard tart

Next up - pecan caramel chocolate truffle tart. And remember - this is for a nine inch tart. The approach is much the same: blind baked pate sucrée, cooled and waiting on the sidelines. For a chocolate crust, just add 30 g (~1/3 cup) unsweetened cocoa powder to the flour in the recipe.

Toast 100 g/scant cup pecans and either leave the halves whole or break them up coarsely. Blend them with a scant 2/3 cup caramel sauce (I make my own, although you can use a good quality purchased product from your local supermarket or specialty food shop).

Place 85 g dark chocolate (I use Guittard 61% discs) and 21 g unsalted butter in a heat proof bowl. In a separate heat proof container (I use a pyrex measuring cup) bring 120 ml heavy cream to a boil. Pour over the chocolate/butter and blend gently until smooth. Blend in 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract. Note: double or triple your recipe to have more ganache on hand for your next truffle tart project!


Layer the nut caramel mixture in the bottom of the baked shell. Once again I made some small trial versions - for taste testing, don’t ya know?!


Pour the ganache over - start slowly to let it nestle into all the nooks and crannies and continue pouring until it’s to the rim edge. Some bubbles will invariable pop up to the surface - just pop ‘em with the tip of a paring knife.


Leave at room temperature until the ganache has set and cooled. If you put it in the fridge before that, there’s a greater chance that beads of moisture will form on the surface - you don’t want that! Once cooled you can go ahead with any garnish or cover/refrigerate and garnish later.

I top mine with chocolate shortbread cookie crumbs, a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar and a few pecans in the center. Pull the tart from the fridge 30-60 minutes before serving to let it temper and bring out the flavors more fully. Feel free to add a dollop of lightly whipped cream atop each portion.

 Pecan caramel chocolate truffle tart

Pecan caramel chocolate truffle tart

Last but not least - apple cranberry! A straight forward pâte brisée dough filled with a mixture of lightly sweetened sliced apples and dried cranberries and topped with a brown sugar crumble.

Heat the oven to 425ºF.

I typically line my tart rings, fork-prick the dough and hold them in the freezer while preparing the fruit. For a nine inch tart I plump 100 g dried cranberries in warm apple cider for 20 minutes or so while I peel, core, halve and thinly slice 4-4.5 cups of Jonagold apples (another good mix is Macintosh and Granny Smith). Drain and paper towel dry the cranberries and mix the fruit with a squeeze of lemon juice, 1/4 cup sugar (use brown if you’d like) and 2 tablespoons of flour. Then I mound the fruit into the lined ring. In this case Mr. Steve had reduced down a bunch of apple cider for me, creating a delicious apple cider caramel. I drizzled some of that on the fruit once the lined ring was filled. Yummy stuff.


You might notice the scrap of rolled out dough on the sheet pan - I bake one every now and again just to see how the crust tastes au naturel. (In case you’re wondering, it was flaky, buttery and melt-in-your-mouth good.)


Top with a standard crumble mixture of equal weights flour, brown sugar (light or dark is fine) and diced butter and cover the fruit with the mixture. Not a very thorough covering job on those small tarts, eh? As I’ve mentioned in previous posts over time, I like to make a bunch of crumble, bag it up and stash in the freezer where it’s at the ready to be used.


Bake on the bottom rack for 10 minutes then reduce oven temp to 400 and move up to the middle rack. Give it another 10 minutes then ratchet down to 375 and continue baking for another 10-20 minutes (all ovens are different so pay attention!) until the crumble has browned and you see some bubbling around the edges. Cool a bit and serve slightly warm or at room temp with your favorite ice cream or whipped cream. Yippee!

 apple cranberry tart

apple cranberry tart


And there you have it! A delightful trio of seasonal tarts just waiting for the Thanksgiving table. Have a calm and peaceful holiday everyone.

Meanwhile here in west Michigan there are lots of rustling leaves along the pathways and the burning bushes are still burning brightly, even though many trees are now bare. Tis the season - and we may even see our first snow this weekend. Oh boy, oh boy!


Honeyed pear/Cashel blue/walnut puffs


Here’s a wonderful way to use puff pastry. Make vol au vent (puff pastry cases) in desired shapes and create your own sweet and/or savory fillings for your supper buffet or dessert table. While making your own puff pastry is a rewarding experience, the good news is you don’t have to! All butter puff pastry (Dufour is a well known brand) is available in the frozen food sections at many local supermarkets, allowing you to take one task off your holiday prep to-do list.

Before you know it, Thanksgiving and Christmas will be upon us, so start planning now.

This version of vol au vent (also referred to as feuilletée) marries sweet and savory tastes and, since I’m still on the trail of baking with cheese projects, I chose Irish Cashel blue cheese from The Cheese Lady as a lovely accompaniment to pears, walnuts and honey.


If you happen to have a stash of different shaped cutters, choose your favorite shapes (I like ovals, squares, hearts and fluted rounds) and use cutters that are two sizes apart. For each puff you’ll cut two shapes with the larger of the two and then cut the center out of one of them with the smaller. Once you do it, you’ll know what I’m talking about.


Here’s a heart version which should help you visualize the process. Brush a little water along the edge of the solid shape then lay the cut out on top of it. Just press gently to stick them together.


The top layer serves as a border for the puffs. You can save the cut out shapes and bake them along side - they make cute “hats” on your finished creation or you can just eat them plain.

These bake at 400ºF for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Let them cool a bit, push down the center layers that have puffed up to give yourself room for the chosen filling.


NOTE: Another plan-ahead perk is you can bake your puffs a week or so ahead and freeze them. When you’re ready to start your filling project, take them out of the freezer, place them on a parchment lined sheet pan and heat the oven to 325ºF. Pop them into the heated oven for 5-10 minutes to crisp them up then set on a cooling rack while you prepare your fillings.

I’ve created these delights with poached Bosc pears on hand in the fridge, but another approach is to roast pear slices drizzled with honey for the pear portion of the program.


Peel, core and slice the pears, drizzle them with honey and roast them in a 375ºF convection oven for 10-20 minutes. Stir them up a bit half way through. You want them turning golden but still holding their shape. Once the pears have cooled you can store them in a covered container in the fridge for several days.

When you’re ready to fill your puffs, cube the pears to allow them to fit in nicely. Have some toasted walnuts, crumbled up Cashel blue and honey at the ready. First put a bit of crumbled cheese in the bottom. (Note the twisted corner diamond shapes below - they’re great although difficult to explain on paper - maybe some day I’ll have a video to post to show how they’re done!)


Then tuck in the pears (don’t be afraid to mound them up!) and top with a sprinkle of walnuts, more cheese and a drizzle of honey.


Then pop them back into the oven to melt the cheese a bit and warm things up. They can be served warm or at room temp and are delicious as an appetizer or a dessert, particularly if you’re doing a broader cheese board for the end of your meal.

Use your imagination and fill your puffs with anything savory or sweet. Crab or chicken salad, roasted root veggies with caramelized onion, lemon curd and fresh berries, whipped chocolate ganache and candied nuts. The sky’s the limit.

Only you can decide!

Happy baking and here’s to the holidays!! More on that coming your way.


A couple of autumn tarts


Apples! Pears! Berries! What better way to celebrate autumn, eh?

On the prowl for a couple of Sunday desserts, as well as a way to use some of the local Michigan pears and apples I had on hand, tarts were definitely on my mind. Natch! This project involved two versions of tart, one apple/pear/blackberry with classic brown sugar crumble topping and one apple/pear/raspberry with crunchy almond topping. Ooooohhh how delicious.


I’ve been a fan of Bosc pears for some years now, and, on the apple side of things, this season I’ve taken quite a shine to Jonagolds too.

I typically poach my pears soon after purchase as a way to avoid the ripening wait as well as to hold them in the fridge for use when needed. But after reviewing some of my numerous pastry books I opted for the slice/dice/sauté in a little butter and sugar approach. Works like a charm!

For a couple of full sized tarts I peeled, halved, cored and thinly sliced about 4 pounds of apples. That would normally be a decent quantity for one tart, but, since I was mixing in pears and berries, it worked very nicely for two.

Then on medium heat melt 2 ounces/56 g unsalted butter in a sauté pan or Dutch oven large enough to hold all of the apples, then stir in the slices until coated. Add 100 g dark brown sugar, a large pinch of salt, the zest of one lemon and a large squeeze (a tablespoon or so) of lemon juice, increase heat to medium high and stir about a minute.

Now here’s where I took Elisabeth Prueitt’s advice from her “Tartine all Day” book - cover the pan, reduce the heat to low and let the apples cook for about 10 minutes until softening and juice-releasing has happened. Then scoop the apple slices out with a slotted spoon (I placed them in a large strainer over a bowl to allow dripping then transferred them to a clean bowl) and cook down the juices for a few minutes until very thick - apple caramel! Mix the thickened juices in with the apples and you’re good to go. You can add a little cinnamon and nutmeg here if you’d like - I kept mine au naturel. Set aside to cool until you’re ready to fill your tart shell.

For the pears, again using about 4 pounds, I peeled, halved, cored and diced them into 1/2 inch cubes then followed a similar sauté approach in butter and sugar. For these, simply cook them over medium high heat until they start to soften and become lightly caramelized (maybe 5-8 minutes) then set them aside to cool until ready to fill the tarts. No juice reduction here.

I used two of my favorite tart doughs - pâte brisée for the blackberry version and pâte sucrée for the raspberry - blind baking them before filling. Once baked I brushed the bottom with egg white and popped ‘em back in the oven for a couple of minutes to “dry”. That provides a seal to the dough and reduces the chance for a soggy crust.

 Pear apple blackberry waiting for assembly

Pear apple blackberry waiting for assembly

I mounded the apple/pear mix in first then tucked my blackberries into the various nooks and crannies. These were plump frozen berries that I broke up into pieces for more efficient cranny-ing.


The brown sugar crumble is equal weights flour, brown sugar (you can use light or dark, whichever you prefer) and diced cold butter sanded into the dry ingredients. I usually make a bunch and store it in a zip-top bag in the freezer to use at a moment’s notice.

 Loaded with crumble!

Loaded with crumble!

Since the crust is already baked and the fruit “cooked”, the primary task here is to brown the crumble and get the fruit to juicy-up. Bake at 350ºF for 20-25 minutes until the crumble is golden and some juicy bubbling is visible.


The approach to the raspberry version is pretty much the same. Fill the blind baked crust with the pear/apple/raspberry mix.


But this time the topping is made with 2 large egg whites, 100 g/1 cup confectioner’s sugar and 125 g/1.25 cups sliced almonds all mixed together and spread over the fruit.

 Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

This one also bakes at 350ºF for about 25-30 minutes until the nuts are browned and have taken on a certain luster and there’s some fruit juiciness visible around the edges.


Talk about a treat! Whether it’s crunchy toasty almonds or a more classic crumble that melts in your mouth, both of these tarts delivered with the lovely fall flavor of pears, apples and berries. And a side of vanilla ice cream doesn’t hurt either!

Now don’t hesitate to make your own version of a delicious autumn tart.

Happy baking!


Roasted garlic cheese bread


Ooooh I loved this baking adventure! Not only did I use Fontinella, a delicious bread-worthy cheese from The Cheese Lady, but added in some roasted garlic that the Steve-man has recently been providing in spades.


I’ve been wanting to experiment more with different ways of filling and shaping bread dough and am often inspired by ideas I absorb from King Arthur Flour’s “Sift” magazine and/or their website which is chock full of wonderful tips, tricks and ideas.

In addition, I’m learning more about the ways to tweak one’s bread recipe from a straight or direct dough to a pre-ferment approach to build more flavor into the final result. Not only is it fun but appeals to my scientific bent.

In addition to KAF’s website, my go-to resources for bread baking include Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “The Bread Bible”, Peter Reinhart’s “artisan breads every day” and Jeffrey Hamelman’s “Bread”. So much to learn.

For this project I married ideas from a provolone bread recipe from CIA’s “Baking and Pastry” that I’ve been making for some years now with a KAF recipe for a cool looking twisty cheese/sundried tomato/herb number. I wanted to do a poolish this time and found some great tips on the “Weekend Bakery” blog, written by a Dutch couple who bake at their home. Lots of good stuff there too.

I’m not here to slog through the calculations but, in a nutshell, a poolish is equal weights of flour and water taken as a percentage of the whole from the base bread recipe you’re using. Based on my understanding of how one goes about this, I created my poolish with 200 g bread flour, 200 g water and 1/8 + 1/16 teaspoon of instant yeast, looking for a 6 hour room temperature fermentation. NOTE: the amount of yeast you add will vary depending on how long you wish your poolish to ferment.

Here’s my poolish after about 5.5 hours - nice and active and bubbly!


To make the final dough I combined the poolish with 510 g bread flour, 7 g instant yeast, 235 ml tepid water/milk mix, 71 g olive oil, 20 g butter and 16 g salt.


Using the dough hook I mixed everything for 4 minutes on low speed and then 2 minutes on medium speed. Then a 30 minute bulk fermentation followed by a fold-over then another 30 minutes before dividing.

 After the bulk fermentation

After the bulk fermentation

I divided my dough into two 740 g portions with a plan for two different shaping approaches.


The first shape involves rolling the dough into a rectangle and sprinkling it with 227g grated cheese (fontinella in my case). Then I took 6-7 cloves of roasted garlic and smooshed and pieced them up, scattering the pieces over the rectangle. A light sprinkle of Penzey’s salt free pizza seasoning mix, then roll up a snug log.

 Starting the log roll

Starting the log roll

Once the log is complete, pinch the seams, place it seam side down on a parchment lined sheet, slit it down the middle to a depth of about an inch, leaving the ends intact. The log will open up to expose the filling.


Then shape it into an “S” and tuck the ends under. Pretty cool.


My second shape followed the method used for babka in which you roll up the log as already described, then slit the log entirely down the middle yielding two separate pieces filling side up.


Begin at one end and twist the two pieces over and under each other, continuing to keep the filling side up as best you can (I could use some more practice on this one!). In this case I then went for a couronne or crown by forming it into a ring and tucking the ends under.


Cover and let rise in a warm place for about 45-60 minutes, heating the oven to 350ºF during the last half of the rise.

Bake for 35-40 minutes until nicely browned.


The fontinella and roasted garlic went a long way to making this one a truly delectable bread experience.


For a family supper we sliced it, drizzled some melted butter over it, loosely wrapped it in foil and warmed it for about 10 minutes in a 325ºF oven. Oh my.

Yup. I’d make this again.

World egg day!

 Maple pot de crème

Maple pot de crème

How many of you knew that October 12 was World Egg Day? I wouldn’t have known if it hadn’t been for Kim, the activities director at Heron Manor/Woods just down the street from our home.

It all started in 1996 when the International Egg Commission set the second Friday in October as World Egg Day to increase awareness of the benefits of eggs and how important they are in human nutrition. Who knew?

Needless to say, eggs are utilized in many different ways in the baking and pastry world. For a morning event this past Friday, October 12, I decided to really go for it in the egg department.

Never one to turn down pot de crème, I thought others would enjoy a maple version of this unctuous delight, topped with maple mascarpone cream, a sprinkle of walnut praline crumbs and a petite maple walnut shortbread cookie on the side. So lovely and so delicious.

The base is essentially a crème brulée type custard made with cream, yolks and sugar (maple syrup here). I used 3 ounce ramekins which I find to be a perfect portion for a just right taste.

To yield 14 portions, whisk together 9 yolks, 3/4 cup REAL maple syrup (don’t you even dare use “pancake syrup“!), 3/4 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract; heat 3 cups heavy cream to barely simmering and temper it into the egg/maple syrup mixture. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a pouring measuring cup then fill the ramekins to 1/4” below the rim.

Bake in a water bath at 325ºF. I use a clear pyrex glass baking dish, set the ramekins in, pour hot water into the corner of the dish and fill to about half-way up the sides of the ramekins. Cover loosely with foil and bake about 30-35 minutes, checking it periodically - you want the custard just set with a hint of a jiggle in the center. Once out of the oven, lift them out of the water bath and cool to room temperature on a wire rack.


Then refrigerate until chilled. Garnish with whatever you’d like! If not being consumed the same day, I cover them with plastic wrap to enjoy over the next few days.


Now for a tart!


As always, having some version of a tart in the mix is right up my alley and thus a ricotta custard raspberry tartlette was born - buttery blind baked short crust filled with a few raspberry pieces and an easy to make ricotta filling.

For the filling whisk together 2 cups ricotta/3 eggs/one tablespoon cornstarch/3/4 cup sugar/zest of a lemon/ 1 teaspoon vanilla. Et voilà, très simple!


Bake at 350ºF until the filling is set and a bit puffy, about 20-25 minutes.


To give these babies some panache I made a lightly gelled raspberry coulis and pooled it on the top.


Then a nice string-of-pearls crème Chantilly rim and a fresh raspberry to top it off. Smooth and berry delicious !


The World Egg Day table also held browned-butter pistachio crumb cakes (egg whites) . . . .


. . . . and apple pecan brioche (we all know that has eggs!).

Note: more on revisiting brioche recipes later - it’s an ongoing task.


An enjoyable egg day it was!! Can’t wait until next year.

Caramel apple tarts


Yippee - it’s officially fall! The recent autumnal equinox dawned bright, crisp and clear with morning temps in the mid-40s, perfect for walking, baking or pretty much anything one might feel like doing. My time of year!

Apples are everywhere - farmers markets, grocery stores, orchards and farm stands - and one can choose the pick-your-own thing or simply buy your favorite of the many varieties available here in west Michigan.


Having a go-to simple apple tart in one’s repertoire is a beautiful thing. As is my practice, I periodically assess my freezer stock of various doughs and decide when it’s time to use something up. This time it was one of the pâte sucrée doughs that I like to use for rustic galettes.

The approach is very straight forward, not unlike the Provençal tomato tart I just wrote about, although this time there’s no blind baking involved. Gotta like that.

First line the tart rings. In this case I’m making four 100 mm/4 inch diameter tarts, just enough to share with a few folks for dessert. Once lined, I sprinkle a mixture of equal parts sugar/flour (almond flour or fine bread crumbs work too) on the bottom to protect against sogginess from juicy fruit. With apples it’s not as much of an issue as it might be for juicier fruits like berries or stone fruits, but it’s a good practice nonetheless.

If I happen to have some diced/sautéed apples on hand, I put a smattering of those into the tart shell too.


For the remaining apple filling I thinly slice a few medium apples and toss them with some vanilla sugar (1/2 to 1 tablespoon per cup of apples, or to taste). You can switch to brown sugar if you prefer that bit of toffee like essence. I generally keep the apples as the centerpiece of flavor and forego adding cinnamon or other spices, but those are popular options with many apple tart/pie bakers. You decide.

I’ve used a number of different apples over the years and love the combination of Jonagold/Fuji or Granny Smith/Macintosh. During my internship in Paris back in 2007 Chef Pascal Pinaud used Golden Delicious for his apple tarts, and they were mighty fine too. Isn’t it fun to experiment?

NOTE: a pound is about 3-4 medium or 2-3 large apples and should yield 3-4 cups. That worked well here with a handful of slices left over. I go for the more the merrier, especially since I like to pile ‘em on.


I drizzle a little melted butter over the apples then pop the tray into the freezer while I heat the oven to 400ºF. Start the bake on the lower rack for 10-15 minutes, then move up to the middle rack, turn down to 375ºF and bake for another 10-15 minutes. Some of the apple slice tips start turning brown and I’ll begin to see some juiciness and bubbling developing along with the lovely aroma of baking apples and nicely browning crust. At this point I’ll often turn down to 350ºF and give them another 10-15 minutes. In a nutshell I typically plan a 35-40 minute total bake time for these tarts.

Once out of the oven I drizzle my homemade caramel sauce over and give them 3-4 minutes more in the oven to set the caramel.

Looking good.


Served with vanilla ice cream (Steve believes everything is better that way), these were a tasty end to the meal. Très délicieuse!

Here’s to many more autumn baking adventures!!


Provençal tomato tart


Wow this was good! Steve and I enjoyed this freshly baked, slightly warm tomato tart along with grilled chicken and fresh green beans. A delicious late summer meal.

Since tomatoes are out in FORCE right now I decided to make this Provençal tart, ramping up the cheese to include both Swiss cave-aged gruyère and a crumbling type chevre from Pélussin France, located in the Loire department just south of Lyon. Once again, thanks to The Cheese Lady here in Grand Rapids MI for a great selection of cheeses.


This tart is one of those things that you can play around with, changing up the herbs, the cheese, the amount of mustard, even the size and type of tomato. It’s a simple approach - a blind-baked pâte brisée crust, a schmear of Dijon mustard and a layer of grated cheese all topped with slices of garden fresh tomatoes seasoned with a little salt, pepper and your choice of herbs. I added some dabs of goat cheese on top just to give it that certain something. Then it all goes into the oven.

Let’s go through the steps OK?

First line the tart pan with tasty pâte brisée.


Once lined and pricked all over with my trusty fork, I place the tart pan on a parchment lined sheet pan and freeze it for 15-20 minutes while heating the oven to 425ºF. Once firm, it makes it much easier to line it with a round of parchment and fill it with dried beans for blind baking.


Now bake it on the lower rack for 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 400º, move it up to the middle rack and give it another 5 minutes. Take it out of the oven and remove the weights. The crust should be starting to set although the bottom will be a bit moist and doughy and will need a bit more baking to finish it off.

Pop it back into the oven without the weights and give it another 5-10 minutes until golden brown. I often decrease my oven temp to 375 for this step and, as usual, keep on eye on what’s happening in there.


Decrease the oven temp to 350º. While the crust cools, thinly slice 2-3 fresh, ripe medium tomatoes, grate up a cup (about 4 ounces) of gruyère and have some Dijon mustard at the ready. I like to blend some regular Dijon with a nice coarse grainy mustard, 2-3 tablespoons total. Maille is a great brand and, if you’re in Paris, you can visit their wonderful shop right near Place de la Madeleine.

Spread a thin layer of mustard over the bottom of the cooled crust. I used 2 tablespoons since I like a more subtle mustard flavor, but you can certainly use more if you wish!


Sprinkle the grated gruyère over it.


Arrange your tomatoes in concentric circles, overlapping each slice. I also tucked in some halved orange and dark red cherry tomatoes for some additional color.


It’s pretty traditional to finish off these tarts with salt, pepper, fresh herbs and a drizzle of olive oil before baking, but I went for an addition of crumbled goat’s cheese dotted over the tomatoes. Then some freshly grated black pepper, a pinch of two of salt, a sprinkling of herbes de provence and it’s ready to go into the oven.


Bake it for about 20-25 minutes until the goat cheese is starting to brown, the tomatoes are starting to shrivel and the aroma is hitting your nostrils just so.


The combo of nutty gruyère, warm fresh tomatoes, the tangy, creamy goat’s cheese and the perfect hint of mustard and herbs was absolutely delicious. Not only that, it’s très, très facile. You can do it!

This one’s a keeper, right Steve?


Fruity-nutty-oat biscuits with cheese


These delectable whole wheat shortbread-style cookies (biscuits for you Brits out there) have just the right hint of sweetness, chock full of toasted nuts, dried fruit and oats. You can read more about the recipe here. Since I wrote about these back in February, I've settled on three flavor variations as an accompaniment to cheese, either as an appetizer or as part of the post dinner cheese course. Cherry hazelnut, apricot pistachio and cranberry almond. Lovely.


A few weeks back I paired these gems with a mellow, dreamy Saint Angel triple crème from The Cheese Lady here in Grand Rapids. While the cheese is exactly what it should be - buttery, smooth and oh-so-good - it was rather lost when spread on these wholesome biscuits. So I decided to try something a bit more bold and nutty for this episode in my baking-with and pairing-with cheese project.

So back to The Cheese Lady I went.


This time I went with a couple of Spanish cheeses, one bleu from the Basque region and one 12 month aged Manchego, both of which just had to be given the chance to show their stuff.


The nuttiness of the aged Manchego wasn't bad with the crunchy-little bit chewy-fruity-nutty cookies, but it was the bleu that really shined for me. Salty and pungent yet smooth and creamy - I'll take it! 


Alas, while the Steve-meister loves cheese, especially bleus and Manchegos, he couldn't quite get on board with the cookie part (not a shortbread lover - sigh). He'd go for a crispy cracker instead - to each his/her own, right Mr. Steve?

Stay tuned for more cheese adventures!


Blueberry & croissant bread pudding plus two summer ice creams


This post is quite a mouthful (get it?) but here goes!

I've been experimenting in recent weeks, tweaking my tried and true croissant recipe in hopes of reaching the ultimate croissant perfection. Invariably I've had some croissants leftover, some of which were destined to become croissants aux amandes, one of Steve's (and many others by the way) favorite pastries. But that's not the only way to repurpose this lovely laminated goodie -  bread pudding here we come!


Here I'm using a 3 qt Pyrex casserole dish, lightly buttered, layered with about 400 g/14 ounces of chunked up croissant pieces. It's actually better to use "old" croissants for this purpose, since the dough is able to soak up the custard much more efficiently.


The custard is one I love to use for baked fruit tarts too. I wanted a filling quantity about twice the weight of the croissants and doubling my base recipe worked out perfectly. Love it.

I typically plan ahead, giving my croissant/custard mélange a good couple of hours to soak in the fridge before baking. Then I topped this one with about 3 cups of blueberries, tucking them down into the custard a bit, followed by a sprinkling of raw sugar for a little extra crunch.


Bake at 350ºF for a good hour to an hour and twenty minutes - you want the custard nicely set and the croissant pieces toasty brown. Just be patient. Trust me.


Destined for the dessert table at our Labor Day outing at cousin Jen's, I added a couple of complimentary summer ice creams that I must say were pretty fun to make. BTW - I LOVE making ice cream, in case I haven't told you heretofore. I've been using a classic custard type base from David Lebovitz for many years now and never find it wanting. Just omit the vanilla bean from the base recipe when you're creating your own flavor(s).

First up - roasted plum almond. Dairy infused with toasted almonds (which are then strained out) . . . . .  


the finished chilled ice cream base blended with about a cup of roasted plum purée then processed. 


It just takes some planning, as is true of so many things in the kitchen, right?

The roasting fruit thing has been another of my summer experiments, and since I'm invariably contemplating ways to preserve our wonderful summer fruit bounty here in west Michigan, why not give it a try. The idea behind the roasting is to concentrate the flavor more.

It's quite simple really. Heat your oven to 400ºF (or 375º convection), prepare your fruit depending on size (e.g peaches sliced, plums or apricots halved and pitted and maybe quartered too, cherries pitted, berries left whole - just play with it). Place fruit on a parchment lined sheet pan and roast about 10 minutes. Give them a stir and roast another 5-10 minutes. The fruit should become softened, a bit caramelized and shrunken looking. Since I planned to purée mine, I didn't really care how shrunken they became.

My plums were a red-skinned, yellow-fleshed variety which I placed skin side down on the prepped sheet pan. You can roast your fruit au naturel or drizzle a little honey over it if you'd like.

As a side note, a pound of plums (~6 medium or 9 small), halved, pitted, roasted, puréed and strained should yield about 1.5 cups of purée. Of course, you don't have to do the roasting part - just leave that step out of the above, and the un-roasted purée yield should be a bit higher.


Once roasted, the fruit will keep in a closed container in the fridge for a few days or frozen for several weeks. I froze mine and did the puréeing later - just thaw in the fridge overnight, purée, add a tablespoon of lemon juice, a pinch of salt and sweeten to taste. I generally start by adding sugar equal to 10% by weight of the purée and add more if it's still pretty tart. Then use it in whatever way you choose. Maybe swirled into a cake batter, blended into mascarpone cream, warmed and used as a sauce over a nice berry cake. You decide.

The second ice cream - sweet corn! 


In this case, using the same base recipe mentioned above, scald the milk with half the sugar and a pinch of salt, temper it into the yolks which have been whisked well with the other half of the sugar, then whisk in 2.5 cups of fresh corn cut off the cobs plus the two cups of cream. Bring this all to a boil (the starch in the corn protects the yolks from curdling, just like making pastry cream with cornstarch!).

Then put it all in a decent blender (I have a Breville brand which is dyn-o-mite), purée and strain then chill thoroughly before processing. YUM.

And there you have it - blueberry & croissant bread pudding with sweet corn and roasted plum ice cream on a polka dot paper party plate. Happy summer!


Classes at Nonna's Pantry


It's official! I'm now offering small group hands-on pastry classes at Nonna's Pantry in Ada. Check out the fall schedule here.

I'm excited to have a space in which I can share my craft with beginners and avid bakers alike. Even though we're still in the throes of summer heat, humidity, showers and thunderstorms, fall is coming and it's baking season. Yay!!

I look forward to seeing some of you at Nonna's this fall. Meanwhile, happy baking to all.

Caprese gougères


Tomatoes and basil here we come!! It's sum-sum-sum-sum-sum-sum-summertime, and we're deep into it. I've been dreaming of a caprese salad and now's the time.

Another visit to The Cheese Lady was in order to score some fresh mozzarella and a tasty grating cheese for some delicious gougères, essentially a cheesy version of profiteroles.


Gruyère is the cheese that's often used in savory gougères but one can certainly waver and choose something equally as tasty. Since I was filling them with mozzarella, tomato and basil, I thought some mozzarella or similar cheese would be a decent addition to the pâte à choux, but I didn't really want a run-of-the-mill grated mozz from the supermarket.

The Cheese Lady to the rescue! A pecorino Toscano was suggested as a good stand in for mozzarella, so that's what I chose for my choux paste. Wanting a little something to grate on the choux tops, I went with a Comté.

You might notice on the package above that the label reads gruyère de Comté, prompting one to ask "What's the diff between that and gruyère, eh? From my very brief research, I learned that a classic gruyère is produced in Switzerland, while a gruyère de Comté comes from the Franche-Comté region (newly re-formed as Bourgogne-Franche-Comté in early 2016) of France on the Swiss border. And, just to add to the confusion, I'll throw one more name in there - the similar Emmental which is also produced in Switzerland but has holes, unlike gruyère. They're all good if you ask me.

So let's make some gougères already.


Basic pâte à choux is made with milk, water, butter, a bit of salt and sugar, flour and egg. For a savory version like this I delete the sugar, add in some black pepper and mustard powder, as well as grated cheese. You could also add herbs if desired, like some dried thyme or basil. Just click here for the full recipe.

Once you've completed the process, just pipe or scoop 'em out onto parchment lined sheet pans. 


In this case I topped them with some grated Comté before popping them in the 400ºF oven.


It's generally recommended that you leave the oven door closed for the first 10 minutes of baking, otherwise the puffs can fall. I usually turn the temp down to 375ºF at that point and give them another 15-20 minutes to finish. Remember to pay attention to what's going on in there!

Ooooh - nice and browned and just begging to be filled and tasted.


On of the beauties of making choux puffs is you can freeze them for later, either unbaked or baked. Cool! Just add 5 minutes or so to the baking time if baking right out of the freezer or, if using already baked puffs that have been frozen, re-crisp them in a 350º oven for 10 minutes or so before filling. The perfect do-ahead treat.

Time to make the caprese salad.


Fresh mozzarella balls from The Cheese Lady plus fresh basil and campari tomatoes from the Fulton Farmer's Market are ready to be chopped and combined with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.

For around 40 puffs I used 8 ounces mozz, a generous cup of seeded and chopped tomatoes, about 1/2 cup chopped, packed fresh basil and 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.


Et voilà!


The puffs were crispy outside and creamy-cheesy inside with just the right amount of moisture for my liking.

Since I was making these for an afternoon event, I waited as long as possible before filling the puffs so as to avoid sogginess. I lit upon an idea and lightly toasted up some panko bread crumbs, stashing a few in the bottom of each puff. What genius!


Once they were all filled, I boxed them up and hit the road! Of course, I had made extras so I could sample a couple. Not bad at all, folks, although I did hanker for a more upfront cheesiness to the gougère and decided the pecorino Toscano was too mild. So next time - gruyère or Comté here we come!


Tarte au fromage blanc


Continuing on with my baking with cheese series, this tarte au fromage blanc is the latest adventure - and a delicious adventure it was. One of my favorite tart books is Les Folles Tartes by Christophe Felder, one I purchased back in early 2011 in Paris. I've been eyeing his recipe for this particular tarte for some time now, and what better way to pursue it than to include it in the cheese project. Love it.

Heather Zinn, the proprietor of our local GR Cheese Lady shop was kind enough to order a full fat version of this cheese for me from Bellweather Farms in Sonoma County CA. It's a European style fresh cow's milk cheese, not unlike a creamy goat cheese, with a bit of tang and salt and is also referred to as "fresh farmer's cheese".


I wasn't sure what to expect but was pleasantly surprised at it's creaminess, spreadability and delicious dairy flavor straight out of the tub. Steve and I loved it on our favorite original Triscuit crackers, thinking it would only be enhanced by some herbs, a grind or two of black pepper and perhaps a little succulent fresh tomato. Yeah baby! 

I opted to use my standard pâte brisée which I blind baked first so as to avoid an under baked bottom crust once the filling was added and baked. This time I tried a new approach, one I gleaned from reading Thomas Keller's "Bouchon Bakery". It involves leaving an over hanging edge of dough around the tart ring, baking it as such and then eventually trimming off the excess dough after baking. The idea is to cut down on dough shrinkage during the bake. Pretty cool.


Once the ring was lined, I popped it in the freezer on my parchment lined sheet pan for about 15-20 minutes while heating the oven. Then in goes a round of parchment and dried beans as weights and onto the bake. As you see below, I had a few cracks in the dough around the periphery but, when it came time to add the filling, I simply took some small pieces of raw dough and patched them. Okey-dokey.


The filling is a straight forward blending of 400 g fromage blanc, 2 large egg yolks (2 whites comin' up!), a pinch of salt, 90 g cane sugar, 20 g flour, 100 g heavy cream, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, finished off by folding in the 2 whites that have been whisked until fluffy. I added my own zest of two lemons - it seemed so right with this cheese.

Have 50 g of cubed butter set aside to dot on the top of the filling before it all goes into the oven. (Notice my raw dough patches on the crust!)


I decided to trim some of the dough over hang before the final bake - took my serrated knife and gently trimmed away.


The cubed butter on top (seemed like a lot - I would reduce it next time!) . . . .


a 45 minute bake at 375ºF . . . . et voilà!


Pretty pouffy just out of the oven, but after a short time things calmed down and sunk, as a custard type filling is often wont to do. Kind of moonscape like, non?

Once fully cooled, I trimmed the flaky crust edges and eased this baby out of the tart ring. It can be served room temp, or in my case, it went into the fridge, covered, to chill and be served later.


This was destined for dessert at cousin Jen and her husband Scott's lovely woodland home and, since we're deep into blueberry season, it only seemed right to whip up a quick blueberry sauce. A warm up in a saucepan of 2 cups blueberries, a couple of tablespoons of simple syrup, a teaspoon of cornstarch dissolved in a tablespoon of lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Once the juices release a bit, take half the blueberries, purée then strain and add the purée back into the remaining blueberries, cooking a few minutes to thicken. Easy and oh so good. Plus, I had some fresh raspberry purée in the fridge that was begging to be used.


Some chose both the blueberry sauce and raspberry purée while others kept to a solo blueberry arrangement. All were topped with my homemade graham crumble for that just right added crunch.


Creamy, just right lemon-y, fruity, berry-y and graham crunchy in a flaky just right crust. OH. SO. GOOD.

Yes, I would make this again.

English cheddar scones


Let's be clear. I love cheese. So why not use some delicious cheeses in my baking projects, eh? It's a win-win - I expand my knowledge about different cheeses AND I get to create some tasty goodies to boot!

We're fortunate to have The Cheese Lady here in Grand Rapids. It's just one of six Cheese Lady shops located in lower Michigan (read more about it here), and boy-oh-boy do they have a fantastic selection. It's a wonderful spot where the staff is knowledgeable, friendly and helpful, plus one can sample and purchase all manner of cheeses from around the world.  In addition there are well thought out displays of cheese accoutrements and assorted cool serving bowls, cheese boards, platters and utensils. You should check it out!


Below is a shot of the cheese board to get you in the mood to go buy cheese! Yeah!!


This post launches a series I plan to do over the next several months, primarily on baking with cheese but also the occasional post on pairing cheeses with baked goods. First up - cheddar scones.


I chose an English cheddar, Barber vintage reserve, for this project. Did you know there's actually a town in England called Cheddar? If I did, it was certainly buried somewhere in my feeble brain. Just google "history of cheddar cheese" and you'll learn all about it. Bottom line - it's a cow's milk cheese and the good cheddars are REALLY good.


I took my basic scone recipe and tweaked it a bit to give it a savory note - subbed in some whole wheat pastry flour for some of the all purpose, reduced the sugar, added a little dry mustard, freshly ground black pepper and a hint of cayenne to set off the just-right bite of the cheddar. 


The key to scone making is to keep everything cold and work efficiently without overdoing it. Dry ingredients in the bowl, diced cold butter tossed in . . . . . 


Sand the butter into the dry ingredients to achieve coarse crumbs with flattened pieces of butter still visible. Distribute the cheddar cheese around the edges of the bowl then pour in the cream/egg . . . .


Toss it up with a fork to moisten everything. At this point I use my trusty bowl scraper and quickly blend everything together, then turn out onto the work surface for a quick knead into a rough and tumble rectangle. Don't worry if there are still a few dry crumbs. It will all work out in the end - trust me.


The next step helps to achieve a bit of layering to the dough, kind of like making puff pastry. Visually divide the dough in three and fold one end of the dough to the middle . . .


then fold the other third over onto the dough like a business letter. 


Et voilà! You've done a three-fold!

Now either pat by hand or quickly but gently roll the dough into a rectangle again. I like the dough to be about 3/4" thick so I eyeball the size of the rectangle based on my desired thickness. These are closer to 1/2" - next time I'll pay more attention. 

While this recipe makes 8 "standard" (whoever decided what that is?) sized scones, I prefer mine on the smaller size, particularly for trial and tasting purposes. First I score lightly, then cut with my bench scraper into 16 triangles. (NOTE: Going forward I'll do 12, working toward the 3/4" thickness - that gives you a not-too-big-but-still-nice-sized-scone).


Place 'em on a parchment lined sheet pan, brush with egg wash or milk then sprinkle additional grated cheese on top.


Place the tray of scones in the freezer while you heat the oven to 425ºF. Bake for 5 minutes then decrease the temp to 400ºF and continue baking for another 10-15 minutes until nicely browned. I rotate my tray half way through and will ratchet the oven down to 375ºF if I feel they're browning too quickly. Remember - it's up to YOU to watch what's going on in there.


The end result was outside crispy, inside buttery-melty, light texture-y, cheddar cheese-y with a subtle hint of heat on the finish. Those who tasted them thought they were deelish with one taster's plea for more heat. Good to know. Yes, I will definitely make these again.


Raspberry-currant cream berry tart


Planning a dessert for the recent Bastille Day celebration with the local GR chapter of L'Alliance Française, my thoughts turned to tarts (of course!). I had fresh raspberries, blueberries and even currants from the Fulton Farmer's Market, and it was definitely time to incorporate those goodies into a delicious tart.

I've previously written about Breton dough (one of my faves), the most recent post being in early July using a céréales version to support some fresh pastry cream and strawberries. Besides the flavor and delicious texture of Breton dough, on the more practical side, it calls for egg yolks which I always see as the perfect opportunity to accumulate egg whites for financier batter or meringues. Love it.

My Breton dough was already made and in the fridge, as was a batch of raspberry currant cream that I had used the previous day for some petite fresh berry tartlettes. The plan - layers.

First I rolled the dough out to 1/4" thickness, trimmed the edges as needed and pressed it into my lightly buttered 4"x11" rectangular tart form. (Side note: this is the one tart dough I use that I butter the tart ring or form - otherwise it sticks). I wanted to build up an edge that would bake up around the filling and fruit, so I cut narrow strips of additional dough and placed them around the periphery. Then I spread a thin layer of raspberry jam on the dough within the borders. 


Next up - a layer of raspberry currant cream. Now here is just one of the wonderful things about pastry cream - you can replace 75-80% of the whole milk in your favorite pastry cream recipe with fruit purée(s), proceed with the usual preparation and voilà - fruit cream! For this one I used equal weights of fresh raspberry and fresh red currant purées made with some of my farmers's market booty. So tart yet creamy and delicious.

I found it easiest to pipe thin stripes of the cream over the raspberry jam, so as not to mess it up by trying to gently spread it. Piping makes things so neat, doesn't it? 


Then comes a nice sprinkle of berries - in my case raspberries and blueberries. Another cool trick is if you freeze your raspberries a few hours ahead, you can easily break them up into halves or smaller pieces while still frozen to distribute them over the cream. You try that with fresh raspberries and you'll have a juicy mess! And you can pop the tart right into the oven - no need to wait for thawing, just go for it.


For the final touch I brushed the dough edges with a bit of cream, sprinkled on some raw sugar and added chopped pistachios over the whole kit-n-kaboodle, not only to provide a wonderful color contrast but also some added crunch for the tasting portion of the program.


This one baked at 325ºF (convection) for about 25 minutes. I always check things half way through, rotate my sheet pan to provide even browning (yes, even in a convection oven!). You want the crust to be nicely browned and the cream to be set.


Let it cool for 15-20 minutes, gently slide a knife or offset spatula around the edges to loosen the tart form and lift it right off.


Part of a dessert buffet for the Bastille Day L'Alliance gathering, I sliced it into strips and added a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream to each portion. Oh my, I love this dough sooooo much! Light, buttery and a wonderful complement to the tart, fruity cream and berries. And, to top it all off, I had some extra components to make another petite blueberry tart for Steve and myself to enjoy the next day. Scrumptious.


Swirly whirly Viennese butter cookies


Creating a varied menu and testing out the possible goods for an afternoon tea or special occasion brunch, lunch or what-have-you is an ongoing project of mine (Yes, I'm getting there). As I research recipes and ideas, I invariably come across something I haven't made for a long time. This cookie is one of them.

Years ago I had a cookie press with the various discs that allowed one to create butter cookies in different shapes or designs, including a simple swirl . I've since moved on from the cookie press, but these whirled Viennese cookies remind me of those days of yore. It's a classic butter cookie made even more enticing by sandwiching with raspberry jam and buttercream.

Most of the recipes I've seen call for equal (or nearly so) weights of butter and flour along with some confectioner's sugar, cornstarch (or cornflour, as the Brits call it), vanilla and maybe a bit of baking powder and salt. As is the case with pretty much all recipes, the quantities of each ingredient vary a bit from recipe to recipe. They're all good if you ask me! 

I opted to use white rice flour instead of cornstarch, being curious about the final texture (Spoiler alert - good!).


Here's the recipe I used for these:

  • 200 g / 1 stick plus 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 50 g / 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 200 g / 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 30 g / 3 tablespoons white rice flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons whole milk
  1. Heat the oven to 325ºF. Line two half sheet pans with parchment paper.
  2. Cream the soft butter and confectioner's sugar with the paddle on medium-high for several minutes until pale and light.
  3. Add the vanilla extract and blend in.
  4. Sift the flour, rice flour, baking powder and salt into the bowl; add 1 tablespoon milk and blend until smooth and well combined.
  5. Add the additional tablespoon of milk only if the mixture seems a bit stiff.
  6. Spoon the dough into a piping bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe whirls onto parchment lined baking sheets. Leave some space to allow for spreading, although in my experience they don't spread too much.
  7. Place in the freezer for 20-30 minutes before baking. This step sets the dough and makes it more likely your cookies will hold their shape nicely.
  8. Bake for about 10-12 minutes until the edges start becoming golden brown. Cool on wire racks.

Once cooled, pair up the cookies, overturn them, pipe a swirl of your favorite buttercream on one side and a smear of raspberry jam on the other. Sandwich 'em together and c'est fini!


A little dust of powdered sugar before serving gives them just the right elegant touch.


I find the powdered sugar/butter version of buttercream (which is found all too often on cupcakes, in layer cakes, on cookies) to be too sweet for my taste, so I prefer to make a Swiss meringue buttercream which is lighter and less sweet. It's a little more work, but, once you've done it, the next time will go so smoothly. It's worth the effort for me.

For this project I made my orange honey buttercream as follows:

  • 3 large egg whites
  • 140 g / scant 3/4 cup cane sugar
  • 185 g / 1 stick plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature
  • 84 g / 4 tablespoons honey
  • pinch sea salt
  • zest of one orange
  1. Have a stand mixer with whisk attachment at the ready.
  2. Place an inch or so of water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.
  3. Have a thermometer on hand (a digital probe type works well or a standard candy type thermometer).
  4. Meanwhile, place the egg whites and sugar in a medium bowl that sits nicely in the top of your saucepan and whisk them together. Reduce the heat to a simmer and whisk until the sugar is dissolved, the mixture starts to thicken and whiten and the temperature reaches 150-155º F.
  5. Transfer the meringue directly to the bowl of the stand mixer and whisk on high until cooled and thickened to nice shiny stiff peaks.
  6. Gradually add the room temperature butter, a few pieces at a time, until incorporated and the buttercream is smooth and creamy.
  7. Blend in the honey, sea salt and orange zest. I usually do that with a hand held spatula and make sure everything is blended nicely. 
  8. Pipe or spread as desired. This keeps well in the fridge for several days and can also be frozen. Once chilled or frozen the cream should be brought to room temperature and may need a bit of rewhipping to soften and smooth it out again for use.

And how did these taste, you might ask? Delicious. Melt in your mouth cookie with a delightful texture from the rice flour, along with the hint-of-orange-creamy and tang-of-raspberry-fruity. These keep very nicely in the fridge for several days and can also be frozen.

Feel free to create your own combos of buttercream and jam for something just a little different. I know I will and why not, eh?


Sablé Breton au céréales avec fraises et crème


Multigrain Breton shortbread, smooth luscious pastry cream and fresh strawberries. Yup. That's it.

Summer is upon us with a vengeance, with heat and humidity spending time with us for some days to come. Great for those who are spending the July 4th week at the beach or campground, but not ideal for the bakers of the world. There are some mornings when one gets up that simply announce themselves as baking days but, alas, not right now.

The good news is that strawberry season is in full swing here in west Michigan, and in fact is already starting to wane. What a delicious, albeit short, time of year, making it so important to take advantage of it while we can. 


I had made some sablé Breton dough the other day, adding a mixture of seeds and grains to it for a change of pace. The base recipe is a favorite of mine, kind of a cross between a tart dough and a buttery dense, yet light and airy cake. Bake it on the thin side and it's a crispy texture, but on the thicker side it's kind of like a soft-ish, chewy cookie. You just have to taste it to know what I mean.


It's a straight forward preparation and can be accomplished by hand or with a mixer. First you whisk 3 large egg yolks with 140 g sugar for several minutes to blanch and thicken it. Then blend in 150 g soft, unsalted butter until homogeneous. Sift in 200 g flour (I used half whole wheat pastry flour and half all purpose flour) along with one teaspoon baking powder, add in 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt and 70 g almond flour and mix it all together. Finally blend in 80 g mixed grains, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill one hour. (See my previous post about Breton dough here and the full recipe here).

  All mixed up

All mixed up

For the grains I decided on King Arthur Flour's Harvest Grain Blend, a combo of oat groats, wheat flakes, rye flakes, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flaxseed, poppy seeds and hulled millet. I've already used this mix in a simple wheat sandwich bread as well as in my favorite buttermilk scone recipe - wonderful toothsome chew and crunch going on. I'm definitely in.


On our recent spring time trip to Paris I visited Mora, that wonderful all-things-pastry shop near the Etienne Marcel line 4 metro stop. There I purchased my first perforated tart form, a relatively new iteration that comes in all shapes and sizes for the avid and/or professional tart maker. The idea is to expose more of the dough to the heat of the oven for even better browning. I like that.


For this Breton dough project I wanted a simple flat base, no edges, so I just had to roll and shape a piece of dough about 1/4 inch thick to fit my form. Easy. The quantity of dough needed is up to you, something you have to gauge based on size of the form or pan you are using and thickness desired. Remember - thicker is softer and chewier while thinner is crisper.

In spite of the heat I proceeded to bake the dough during the earlier morning hours while the temps were still on the coolish side. This one baked at 325ºF, convection, for about 20 minutes (look for golden brown and a lovely aroma). 

I had already been imagining the pastry cream/strawberry garnish, so my pastry cream was made and chillin' in the fridge. I just had to gently wash, pat dry, hull and slice my fresh local strawberries from the Fulton Farmer's Market.


I sliced my Breton base into strips, piped on simple rounds of crème pâtissiére and topped with the fresh berries. The result was a delightful combo of creamy, fruity and that nutty, seedy chewiness of the Breton dough. Not bad at all. 

I can imagine this multigrain Breton option as a lovely biscuit on a cheese board. Hmmmm. . . . now there's an idea.


In the meantime have a wonderful Fourth of July week and stay cool everyone!

Baking with Michigan fruits the French way


Having just finished a presentation at the Gaines Township Branch, the FIRST in a series of NINE (count 'em - 9!) presentations offered through the Kent District Library (KDL) system, I'm here to promote the beauty of West Michigan fruit. Tis the season!

Summer in Michigan is something you simply have to experience. The lakes, the BIG lake, the orchards, the farmer's markets, the U-pick farms and the delicious bounty available to us here is amazing.

My KDL presentations offer a look into how one might use the bounty of Michigan's fruits in the French manner. I've enjoyed preparing for this and look forward to completing the series which will go through mid-August. It's fun!

I'm currently focusing on strawberries (now in season!) and cherries (coming soon!) and providing the attendees with a couple of sample treats to enjoy.

  Strawberry  tartelettes  with lime cream

Strawberry tartelettes with lime cream

  Cherry financiers

Cherry financiers

I'll change things up a bit as the summer moves forward. Needless to say, it's all about understanding the classic bases of pastry and how you can use them to create your own delicious summer fruit-ful desserts and pastries! Sign up is required so check out your own local KDL branch and put it on your schedule!

Here's the upcoming schedule.
Saturday, June 23, 2018 - 2:00pm to 3:00pm, Grandville Branch
Saturday, June 30, 2018 - 10:00am to 11:00am, Krause Memorial Branch (Rockford)
Saturday, July 14, 2018 - 10:00am to 11:00am, Walker Branch
Saturday, July 28, 2018 - 2:00pm to 3:00pm, Comstock Park Branch
Saturday, August 4, 2018 - 10:00am to 11:00am, Kentwood (Richard L. Root) Branch
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I look forward to seeing you soon!


Ficelle (a.k.a. skinny baguette)


I thought I'd take a few moments on this cloudy, off again-on again rainy afternoon and share my latest bread baking adventure, compliments of Weekend Bakery.  I discovered the website some months ago while reviewing croissant methods (and theirs is right on par with mine - yes!!). Written by a couple in the Netherlands who bake at home during the weekends, it is a plethora of bread baking tips, techniques, recipes, videos and overall great information for all of you avid bread bakers out there. You can choose English or Dutch and you should definitely check it out!

Since I was preparing to teach my own bread baking class to Lisa and Jerry (AVID bread bakers for sure), I was perusing various posts and recipes and decided I needed a little test project to get me in the mood. Ficelle here we come.

The word is literally translated as string, and the bread is basically a thinner version of a baguette. This one happens to be made with a combo of bread flour and semolina, an ingredient I enjoy immensely in my pizza dough. Must be good, right?

The WB version is a sourdough ficelle using the so called hybrid method with a sourdough poolish which is then incorporated into the final dough which contains added instant yeast.  They are thoughtful in giving one the option to use all instant yeast, which is especially helpful for those of us who have yet to jump on the natural starter band wagon - maybe one of these days folks.

A poolish is a starter dough made with equal weights flour and water plus a small amount of yeast (or sourdough starter if you're going that route). For this recipe mix 200 g bread flour with 200 g water plus 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast OR 30 g active sourdough culture.

Below is the starter just after it's mixed. Generally the poolish is allowed to sit, covered, for some hours, either at room temperature or in the fridge depending on the time frame of your recipe. This one is a six hour, room temp wait, so it's easy to plan to accomplish it in one day.


Here it is after a six hour preferment. Nice and light and bubbly. And you know what? It smells good too!


For the final dough, in the bowl of your stand mixture fitted with the dough hook, combine the above poolish with 200 g bread flour, 100 g semolina, 110 g water, 8 g sea salt and 5 g instant yeast. Knead on low speed (2 on a Kitchenaid) for 7 minutes then cover it and let it rest for 30 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, do a full stretch and fold (top down, bottom up, right side over, left side over and ball it up) and let the dough rest another 30 minutes.

  Rested and ready to divide

Rested and ready to divide

Heat your oven to 465ºF with a baking stone in place, or, if you're like me, place a half sheet pan in the oven during the pre-heat (that will serve as the hot surface on which I place my sheet pan containing my risen ficelle).

Divide the dough in four pieces, shape each one into a rough rectangle then cover and let 'em rest for about 10 minutes.


Now shape each piece into a log as seen below. Please accept my apologies for the somewhat fuzzy images, but at least you can visualize the steps (I hope!). I attempted a short video of the shaping, but, not being quite up to snuff, that will have to wait for another time. It's all about learning, even the techno side!

Elongate the rectangle, fold over the top third, pressing along the edge of the dough with the heel of the palm. Turn the dough 180º.


Fold over the top third toward the middle, again pressing along the edge of dough with the heel of the palm.


Now fold the dough over itself to form a rough log, pinching the seam with the heel of the palm.


Place your overlapping hands in the middle of the log and start rolling with gentle pressure, gradually elongating the dough as you move your hands outward toward each end. You should have a nice thin log with pointy ends.


Once all four logs are shaped, arrange them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes.


I scored these right down the center along the length of the bread then popped them into the heated oven onto my already heated sheet pan. I gave them a burst of steam by pouring hot water into the steam tray in my Kitchenaid oven.

These baked about 20 minutes and developed a nice golden brown crust. Yeah.


Once cooled it was time for a taste. A lovely dense crumb and creamy interior with a nice crunch to the crust. Time well spent I'd say. This one is literally all in a day's work. You can do it too, especially with the help of Weekend Bakery.com!