Orange glazed brioche

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Balled up dough ready for final shaping

Balled up dough ready for final shaping

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 537 g flour, half bread and half all purpose

  • 90 ml whole milk, cold

  • 90 ml water, cold

  • 5 large eggs, cold

  • 11 g salt

  • 68 g sugar, divided in two portions

  • 18 g instant yeast

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

  • 1 tablespoon orange zest (from 2 medium oranges)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  9. Cool before icing.

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

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

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Crunchy topped choux

As a brief respite from traveling, moving and trying to figure out where we're going to live, I wanted to prepare something for dessert for my Aunt Marian's birthday lunch.  Part of the reason Steve and I are transitioning back to Michigan is so we can be on the ground, as it were, to lend a hand to my Mom and her sibs and sibs-in-law, all of whom are aging as we speak.  But then, aren't we all??

At first I was going to turn to one of my standards - financier, a tart of some sort, shortbread - all the usual suspects.  And then my thoughts turned to choux!

Some years ago while visiting my pastry friend Misato in Mulhouse (Alsace) I was perusing one of her pastry books by Jean-Michel Perruchon.  I was intrigued by the recipes for crunchy topping for pâte à choux, as well as the different fruity variations of pastry cream - a whole new world opened up to me!

Since then I had tried the crunchy topping thing as well as a pear pastry cream version for a tart I created and found them very satisfying.  For some reason I put those ideas aside as other things in the pastry world seemed to grab my attention.

But now, as I reviewed Dorie Greenspan's "Baking Chez Moi", I found her recipes for "Crackle-Top Cream Puffs" and "Bubble Eclairs".  The wheels started spinning.

Inspired by raspberries on sale at Meijer for $1! per 6 oz, I decided to make a raspberry pastry cream to fill my version of "bubble-crackle-top eclairs".




OK - so let's get to it.

First - the crackle-top dough.  This is basically akin to a crumble - mix 64 gm cool, diced butter, 100 gm sugar (in this case brown sugar), 85 gm all-purpose flour, a pinch of salt and 3/4 tsp vanilla extract . . . .

les ingredients

and form a rough dough that just holds together.

crumbly but holds together when squeezed

Form a disc . . . .




and roll it to 1/16" thick between two sheets of parchment paper.




Freeze it for a couple of hours (or until ready to bake your choux puffs), then cut into rounds that will later top the puffs.  You can hold this dough frozen and wrapped for many days!




I wrapped the scraps and froze them for another time.

Second - the pastry cream.  The beauty of this is its make-ahead-by-a-day-or-two feature.

Initially I found the whole idea of a fruit version of pastry cream (hmmm, fruit puree and milk?) kind of odd.  But, as I thought about it, we use fruit purees and dairy in many ways -ice cream,  smoothies, cheesecake, mascarpone cream to name a few.  Instead of using only milk as the liquid base as is typical for standard pastry cream, one can create variations by using a combination of fruit puree and milk, proceeding with the very same process used to make pastry cream with egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch.  I like to think of it as a cross between pastry cream and curd.

I wasn't sure how much puree my 12 oz of fresh raspberries would yield, so I smooshed and strained them with a yield of 215 gm.  Now I could figure out the quantities for the remaining ingredients.

In Perruchon's recipes a greater proportion of fruit puree is used compared to the milk e.g. 500 gm puree + 100 gm milk.  I tweaked the proportions based on my 215 gm of raspberry puree, using equal weights of puree and milk.

To sum up, my recipe used 215 gm raspberry puree, 215 gm whole milk, 95 gm egg yolk, 77 gm sugar and 40 gm cornstarch; 20 gm butter is added at the end of the cooking process.  If you don't know the standard process for making pastry cream, you can find many sources on line to help you.

Once the raspberry pastry cream was made I covered and chilled it until I was ready to use it the next day.

Next up - pâte à choux.  For this I went with my standard recipe from Michel Roux - in a medium pan bring 125 gm milk, 125 gm water, 1 1/2 tsp sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 100 gm diced butter to a boil; remove from the heat and stir in 150 gm flour all at once; place back on the heat and stir for a minute or so to dry it (you'll see a thin film on the bottom of the pan); stir in 4 eggs, one at a time, until you have a smooth, silky paste.

Here is the panada (the paste before the eggs are added) . . . .

check out the thin coating on the bottom of the pan

and after the egg addition . . .


silky smooth

I piped out the puffs in series of three, each ball snuggling up to the next . . .




and topped them with the chilled crackle dough rounds.


ready for the oven

 Pretty cool!

Bake them at 375º for about 35 minutes until the tops are browned and the puffs are golden and firm to the touch.


Oh yeah - lookin' good!

Once the puffs are cooled it's time to garnish.

I typically lighten my pastry cream with a small percentage of whipped cream.  In this case I blended 100 gm whipped cream into my raspberry pastry cream.

whipped cream and pastry cream ready to be blended together

One can garnish puffs or eclairs in two different ways - slice the choux, pipe the cream decoratively on the bottom half and sandwich- OR fill the choux from the bottom.




the non crackle-top in the foreground was my practice version!

I opted for the fill-from-the-bottom technique, finding it much more user friendly than slicing each one in half.  Plus, I've filled a LARGE share of puffs and eclairs over the years, and it's like riding a bicycle.




Poke holes in the bottoms and, using a pastry bag with a 6 mm tip, fill each section until the cream starts to ooze out of the adjacent holes.  That way you know you've filled adequately.  Once you've done this multiple times you begin to understand what the "heft" of a well filled puff is all about.

I'm told that Parisians get mighty peeved if their eclairs and profiteroles aren't filled properly!

I scrape the excess off with a small offset spatula, place them crunch side up and dust them with powdered sugar.  And we're off to the races!






These were well received by the family, who had gathered at Uncle John's Clear Bottom Lake cottage to celebrate Aunt Marian's 86th birthday.  The crunchy top is such a wonderful contrast to the cool, creamy filling and the light as air choux.  I enjoyed the raspberry cream, although Steve still holds out for classic pastry cream (praline and chocolate are some of his faves too).

Happy Birthday Aunt Marian!

Cannelés Bordelais

cannelés Bordelais

I first made a Christophe Felder recipe for cannelés back in late winter/early spring of 2013 in my pastry studio at Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket RI.  While the batter is trés simple I soon learned these delectable treats required baking in a hot oven (450-500º) for a good hour (or more!)   Since I couldn't justify dedicating the oven to one thing for that long, I didn't bake them on a regular basis.  But man are they good!

We're talking one tasty little tidbit.  With a custard like interior and darkly caramelized exterior they are a true taste and mouth-feel experience.




Also known as canelé de Bordeaux these babies are well known and very popular, not only in and around Bordeaux, but in many parts of France.  For years they have been baked traditionally in copper molds coated with beeswax, but, now that silicone molds are so prevalent, there's much less muss and fuss involved, especially for the home baker.

One of the big producers in France is Baillardran.  They have a shop in Paris, and when Steve and I were there in May, 2013 (soon after I had first made cannelés) we felt we HAD to try them.


yup - nicely caramelized

custardy pockets are de rigueur as I understand

Sad to say, we found them rather dry and unappealing, not like the delicious, custardy treats we had sampled at The French Tarte.

At any rate, fast forward 2 years to now.  Inspired by Dorie Greenspan's "Baking Chez Moi" it seemed only natural to try out her recipe for cannelés.





The batter preparation is straightforward and includes milk, sugar, butter, egg, flour, vanilla and usually rum.  Not being a rum fan, I substituted hazelnut liqueur.  Part of the planning involves making the batter at least a day before baking since it requires a good 12 hour (or more) rest in the fridge.


les ingredients

Here we go.  Bring 480 ml (2 cups milk), 150 gm (3/4 cup) sugar and 28 gm (2 TBSP) butter to a boil, stirring occasionally to make sure the sugar is dissolved.  Let it cool 10-15 minutes.

In a separate bowl sift 136 gm (1 cup) flour plus 100 gm (1/2 cup) sugar together.

Whisk 2 large eggs and 1 yolk in another bowl, then slowly add the warm milk mixture while whisking.  Then whisk in the flour/sugar mixture, beating vigorously as needed to blend everything.


ready to strain

Strain it into a clean bowl or pouring container and whisk in 2.5 TBSP rum (or liqueur of choice) and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.


ready to cover and pop into the fridge

Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours (FYI - you can keep it in the fridge for several days).

On baking day brush the cannelé molds with melted butter and put them in the freezer for 30 minutes while heating the oven to 450º.


getting ready to butter the molds

When ready, take the batter out of the fridge and whisk it up, since the ingredients have a tendency to separate during their chilling time.  Fill each mold about 3/4 full.


ready for the oven

Bake at 450º for 30 minutes then lower the temp to 400º and bake another 30 minutes.  In my case I took Dorie's advice and removed one of the cannelé from the mold with a bamboo skewer so I could check the progress at about 40 minutes.


after a 40 minute bake

custardy pockets

I kept the remainder of the batch in the oven for another 10 minutes (total 50 minutes) and felt the browning was just right.


just out of the oven (the empty spot is the for the one I removed early)

Once out of the oven let them cool on a rack for 10 minutes before turning them out of the molds.


whoa baby!

not bad, eh?

Upon cutting one open the interior had the same custardy pockets as the one I had taken out of the oven ten minutes earlier.




So could I reduce the oven time in the future?  With these petite molds I say "yes"!  However, based on my previous experience a couple of years ago when I used a slightly larger mold, the cannelés required a full hour (if not more) in the oven.  Just remember that baking times vary depending on the size of the goods.

The moral of the story?  Pay attention to what's going on in your oven.

A quick note about the taste - firm and chewy on the outside yet with a moist and custardy interior.  In a word - delicious!

Steve took a bunch of these to work, later reporting that they were gone in 5 minutes and were enjoyed by all!

Yes, I would make these again (and again and again and again)!!



Golden raisin toast apple tart, thanks to Janet and Dorie

There are some occasions when I buy an ingredient that I wouldn't normally keep on hand for day to day use.  Golden raisins are one of those.  I purchased them awhile back when I was preparing to make biscuits fondants amande et fruits épicés for my 1/14/15 post.  I used only a portion of the box and was eager to finish it off.  But what, pray tell, might I make?

It was thus that I turned to a book that Steve and I have owned for a number of years - "The Cheese Course" by Janet Fletcher.  While I don't pull it off the shelf very often it offers some great ideas for accompaniments to cheese, including breads, salads with light and simple vinaigrettes, fruits, nuts, honey, olives and more.




I recalled that it contained a recipe for golden raisin bread, so I decided to go for it.  The bread is meant to be toasted and served with Bellwether Farms' crescenza, described as a yeasty, creamy cheese, similar to Italian stracchino.  But I digress - on to the subject at hand.


 

Besides chomping at the bit to bake more bread, I've been wanting to make a not so run-of-the-mill tart - something with a Parisian twist.  I had my eye on an apple tart recipe in Dorie Greenspan's book "Paris Sweets" (one of my faves) that calls for toast points to be tucked in between apple slices before baking.  I was on my way to a new adventure.

First the bread.  Soak 2 cups of golden raisins in 2 cups warm water for an hour or so.  Drain them, reserving 320 ml (1 1/3 cups) of the raisin water (add additional water if you don't have quite enough).  I wanted a bit of je ne sais quoi, so I added the zest of an orange and pinches of nutmeg, allspice and coriander to the dry ingredients.


les ingredients

Weigh out 488 gm (3 3/4 cups) all purpose flour, holding 98 gm (3/4 cup) aside; whisk 390 gm (3 cups) flour with 8 gm (1.5 tsp) salt, 15 gm (1 TBSP) sugar, 8 gm (~ 2.5 tsp) instant yeast; stir in the tepid raisin water and 10 gm (2 tsp) soft butter.

When it becomes too stiff to stir, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead, adding in the remaining flour as you go.  Knead about 5 minutes until the dough is firm, smooth and elastic and shape it into a ball.


after the knead, ready for the first rise

Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise about 1.5-2 hours.


after the rise

Pat the raisins dry and toss them in 3 tablespoons of flour.




Without punching the dough down turn it onto the work surface and pat it firmly into a 14" circle.  Top it with 1/3 of the raisins, pressing them gently into the dough.




Fold the sides of the dough toward the center (I folded it into thirds, just like with a laminated dough) and then roll into a cylinder.


the first cylinder

Again flatten the dough into a circle, add another 1/3 of the raisins, fold the sides into the center and roll again into a cylinder.  Cover and let rest for 15 minutes before you do the same thing a third time, finishing up the raisins and forming the final cylinder.


kinda rough and tumble I'd say
 
Now divide the dough in two and shape each half into a loaf about 12" long (mine came out shorter).


ready for the final rise

I will say these are not the most attractive loaves I've ever shaped.  The raisins made them all lumpy-bumpy, plus you have to keep the raisins tucked into the dough so they don't burn during baking.

Cover with a towel or lightly oiled plastic and let rise for an hour or so.  They look like some kind of funky subterranean creature!


after the rise, ready for the oven

Heat the oven to 400º, bake for 5 minutes, then lower the temp to 375º and continue baking about 30 minutes more.  They should be nicely golden brown and have that tell-tale hollow thump of doneness.


the end result

Once cooled, I sliced one for a taste test and was pleased with the hint of orange and spice, the plump raisins and the not too chewy texture.  I ultimately used about 1/2 loaf for the apple tart and froze the rest - lots of breakfast raisin toast coming up these next few weeks.  Yes!




So let's move on to the apple tart.  Dorie G's "Paris Sweets" recipe is an adaptation from Lenôtre and calls for the following components.

1.  Caramelized white bread (in my case golden raisin) toasts:  slice the bread, cut off the crusts, spread one side with a mixture of soft butter and light brown sugar (made by mixing 30 gm/2 TBSP butter with 30 gm/2 packed TBSP brown sugar) . . . .




then pop under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, flip over and broil another 2 minutes or so.  Pay close attention so they don't burn (if necessary, just scrape off any black edges with a sharp knife).





2.  A blind baked crust (I used my 240 mm / 9.5" tart ring and my favorite pâte d'amande dough) . . . .


waiting for weights and ready to blind bake

3.  Peeled, cored, cut-in-eighths Golden Delicious apples (4 of 'em) sautéed in butter, sugar and vanilla pulp . . .





4.  A custard mixture made by whisking together one large egg, 3 large yolks, 70 gm (1/3 cup) sugar and the pulp from 1/2 vanilla bean until somewhat thickened and pale.

Then boil 300 gm (1 1/4 cups) heavy cream (stovetop or microwave - you decide) and pour the hot cream over the egg mixture bit by bit while whisking constantly.  Try not to be too vigorous - you don't want a lot of bubbles (tapping the container on the counter will help dissipate any bubbles that may have formed).





On to the assembly.  Heat the oven to 325º.  Place the blind baked tart shell on its parchment lined pan onto a second sheet pan (this provides some insulation and more gentle heat).  Slice the toasts.


everything at the ready  

This was definitely the clunky part.  The idea is to line the apple slices up in the tart shell, then tuck the toast triangles (or in my case, more like rounds) decoratively between the apples slices.  Easier said than done.




I had a few gaps into which I tucked smaller pieces of apple, and I did my best with the toast placement.  Pretty rustic.

Dorie calls for sprinkling a couple tablespoons each of walnut pieces and raisins over it all, but, since I was using raisin bread, I left them out.

Carefully pour about 1/3 of the custard over the apples, letting it find its way into the crevices.  Bake for 10 minutes to settle the custard a bit.  Then pour additional custard over until it reaches the tart rim - not too much or it will spill over (I didn't use all of mine).


the custard poured in


Bake for another 40-45 minutes until the custard is set.


interesting look, eh?

one more view

I served this for dessert that same evening, garnished with a dollop of chantilly and some nut crumble.  Despite my skepticism going in, this turned out to be one delicious tart!  Dick, Dor, Carl and Steve all thought so too.  And I still have golden raisin bread in the freezer - cool!

And next time?  I'm already envisioning thinner apple slices and a rectangular tart pan to allow for more attractive rows of apples and toast.  Yes, I would do this again.

My second recipe from "Baking Chez Moi"

I was delighted to receive Dorie Greenspan's recently published book "Baking Chez Moi" as a Christmas gift from Steve.  I simply love immersing myself in a new baking book, perusing the recipes and all of the great tips and techniques offered throughout the pages.  And, to top it off, Dorie's Paris connections and on-the-ground access to so many local French recipes makes it all the more enticing!

A few weeks back I made the custard apple squares recipe that had been highlighted online, and, being on the hook for dessert for a family gathering this past weekend, I was eager to delve deeper into the book for my second trial.

But, before I launch into that . . .

Last evening we took a quick drive through the entrance roads to Meijer Gardens to take a gander at the holiday lights.  The sun had just set and there was still a hint of pink in the western sky, but the lights were all illuminated and a pleasure to behold!

entrance to the main building at Meijer Gardens

There were many more lights to see and the picture doesn't even begin to do them justice, but, suffice it to say, if you happen to be in Grand Rapids over the Christmas and New Year holidays, be sure to stop in for a visit.

Now on to the recipe!  I decided on a version of the "pear tart with crunchy topping", since I had already purchased apples for my dessert prep.  I even had some of my pâte d'amande tart dough in Mom's freezer from my late summer visit, so out it came, making my prep much more straight forward.

In a nutshell this tart consists of a fully blind-baked crust, fruit filling and a crunchy nut topping made with egg whites, confectioner's sugar and nuts (in this case sliced almonds).  Dorie's recipe calls for sautéeing diced pears in sugar and butter to caramelize them, after which they are placed into the blind-baked crust and topped with the nut mixture.  Bake at 400º for about 25 minutes until the topping is golden and shiny and voila!

just out of the oven

For my version I used a combo of Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples instead of pears and added some orange zest and a splash of OJ to my sauté mixture.  My fruit didn't caramelize like I had hoped, but I didn't want to cook it too long for fear of mushiness (I always prefer a hint of crunch to my apple tarts.)

My first bite gave me pause.  Although the apples were just the degree of al dente I wanted, I wasn't sure about the overall flavor of the apple mixture and the ever-so-subtle hint of orange.  The crust was done to perfection, but the crunchy almond topping seemed almost too much.  I think I prefer a nice nut crumble to add the necessary crunchy texture and light buttery sweetness that marries so well with the fruit.

All in all the tart was a hit with the family, no doubt due in part to the accompanying vanilla bean gelato.

And I must say - not bad with the next morning's cup of coffee!

Tarte Tatin

Before I jump into the topic at hand I'd like to share a photo of this gorgeous maple tree that we've been viewing from our window every day these past few weeks.  It's a beauty!

Making a classic tarte tatin has been on my to-do list for some time now.  So when a recent NYT article with the tatin recipe from Gotham Bar and Grill was published online, I felt it was time.

Over the years I've tried my hand at a couple of variations, one being a few summers ago when I made petite versions in mini muffin pans with plums and peaches. They were messy but deeeelicious. More recently, a second attempt involving a mango version from Christophe Felder's book Les Folles Tartes, turned out OK, but something about the flavor of the mangoes put me off.

As is my wont, when I'm planning to make a classic of anything, I compare a number of recipes to see how different chefs approach the process.

In addition to Felder's I reviewed recipes from Dorie Greenspan, Michel Roux, Philippe Conticini, Sherry Yard, Francois Payard and the above mentioned Gotham B&G. Each had a slightly different take on the process.

The recommended apples ran the gamut from Golden Delicious, Gala, Braeburn, Granny Smith, Cox and Honeycrisp, typically requiring 6-8 apples for a 9-10" tart. I opted for a mixture of Braeburn and Granny Smith, partly because I had never baked with Braeburns and thought it a good test.  I like G. Smith because they hold their shape, and their tartness goes so well with buttery pastry and caramel.

Most recipes call for pâte feuilletée (puff pastry), although a couple used pâte brisée.  

Sherry Yard likes to use croissant dough as her tart base.  Go figure.  The quantity of dough is generally about 8 ounces.  This is another one of those times when it's great to have some puff pastry already made and in your freezer!

Typically sugar and butter (amounts vary from recipe to recipe) are used to create a caramel. Some variations involve making the caramel, pouring it into a moule à manqué (cake pan) and temporarily setting it aside. The prepped apples are then placed over the cooled caramel and baked in a 350-375 oven for perhaps 30 minutes to soften and caramelize them. They are then topped with a round of pastry and placed back in the oven to continue the caramelization and bake the pastry until golden brown.

Alternatively some recipes have you bake the pastry round separately and then place it onto the baked apples. The whole thing is then turned out onto a platter before serving.

After a while all these variables become a bit overwhelming. I decided to go the classic route, starting on the stove top and then moving into the oven. I followed the guidelines in Dorie Greenspan's "Paris Sweets" recipe, although I did not make the vanilla tea version as she does.

First I rolled out my puff pastry to about 3 mm thick, and using a cake circle as a guide, cut a round slightly larger than my pan.  I pricked it with a fork, covered it and held it in the fridge until later. Interestingly, both Michel Roux and Gotham B&G have you put the raw pastry over the apples while still on the stovetop before even going into the oven. To each his own.

Then I took my new 10" Lodge cast iron pan (can't believe it took me so long to buy one!), coated it in 113 gm (4 oz) soft butter and sprinkled 150 gm of sugar over it. I used a mixture of my own vanilla sugar and granulated sugar.

I had peeled, cored and quartered a total of 6 apples . . . .

which I layered over the butter/sugar:

The pan is placed over medium heat on the stovetop until a light to medium caramel develops. The time for that will vary, and one must keep on eye on things and adjust the heat as needed to prevent burning.

Here is where one must use judgement about the extent of the caramelization.  I thought this was looking nicely ready so I retrieved my pastry from the fridge and placed it over the apples:

Recommended baking temperatures ran from 350-375ºF and baking times varied from 30-50 minutes with the ultimate goal being a nicely browned pastry.  I baked mine at 375 for about 35 minutes and thought it had achieved just that very look:

I gave it just a minute or two to let any bubbling subside, then, placing a flat platter over the pan, handily flipped the tart out with nary a hitch (I was a bit worried as to how I would fare with that step). Imagine my disappointment when I saw before me a much paler version than what I had anticipated! Plus the Braeburn apples, while actually still holding some shape, were on the verge of mushy applesauce!!

Even the edge of the pastry looked underdone, and I dreaded biting into a doughy mouthful (the worst).

But have no fear.  Steve arrived home soon after the tart came out of the oven and said "why don't you put it back in?" So I slipped the whole thing back onto a parchment lined sheet pan, apple side up and baked it for a good 30 minutes more.  The fix was in . . .

Check out the caramelized pastry now!

Lesson learned.  Next time I would let the caramel on the stove top go a tad further and would definitely extend the baking time to a decent 50-60 minutes. Since one can't see what's going on with the apples underneath the pastry, it takes practice to understand the timing of it all. Other than that I found the whole thing really very straight forward and wondered why I hadn't made this long ago.

In preparation for this tarte tatin I had made a classic vanilla bean crème anglaise ice cream base the day before which had spent the night chilling in the fridge. I processed it in my good old Cuisinart canister model ice cream maker and held it in the freezer until serving.

Nothing fancy . . .

but delicious and well worth it!

Yes, I would definitely make this again.

A simple apple dessert

I've been a fan of Dorie Greenspan's for some years now.  With her book "Paris Sweets" in hand,  I spent a few weeks in Paris during the spring of 2009 searching out the pastry shops from whence the recipes came and then making and comparing my results with the shops' products.   I only made it through a portion of the book, but it was great fun and a terrific way to visit the many wonderful pâtisseries à Paris.  I hope to resume the project some day.

At long last I finally got off my duff and subscribed to Dorie's blog in which the current focus is her new book "Baking Chez Moi".  I was slated to make dessert for a family supper at my brother's this past weekend, and my interest was piqued by the "Custardy Apple Squares" video and recipe.

What a simple and delicious dish!  Here it is in all of its golden glory.

Dorie recommends using Fuji apples, so I followed her lead.  I think this is actually the first time I've baked with Fuji's, and they worked beautifully in this recipe. With so many apple varieties available, it can be somewhat dizzying to decide which ones to use. For example when I make chausson aux pommes, I like to use Granny Smith, diced and sautéed in a little butter and vanilla sugar before assembly. The tart apples marry so nicely with the buttery puff pastry. Whereas when making an apple tart, I often use a mixture of Macintosh or Macoun with Golden Delicious. With those apples there is a pleasant flavor and texture combo going on that I find very appealing.

Here we go. I'm calling this a custard apple cake.  It's rather clafoutis-like and trés simple!

Butter an eight inch cake pan.  Heat the oven to 400º.

The ingredients couldn't be more straight forward:  flour, baking powder, egg, sugar, a pinch of salt, vanilla extract, milk, melted butter and, of course,  three peeled, cored and thinly sliced apples.

Whisk 1/2 cup flour and 1 teaspoon baking powder.  In a separate bowl whisk 2 eggs with 1/3 cup sugar and a pinch of salt; blend in 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 6 tablespoons of milk, 2 tablespoons melted butter; fold in the dry ingredients, then the apples to coat them in the mixture.

Heat the oven to 400ºF. Scrape the apple mixture into the prepared pan . . .

and arrange the apples, if you must . . . .

This baked about 40-45 minutes in my convection oven. I looked for the filling to be set and the apples to be oh so golden brown before calling it done.

Mmmmm!

After about 15 minutes I turned the cake out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. You have the option of serving it still warm, but, since Steve and I were transporting it elsewhere, I opted to serve at room temperature.

Before serving I gave it a dusting of powdered sugar . . .

then portioned and garnished with a dollop of crème chantilly and a sprinkling of nutty granola and toasted sliced almonds.

Yes indeed!  Thanks Dorie!!