Petits gâteaux part one - sesame crunch gâteau de Pâques

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For our recent Easter dinner at cousin Jennifer's lovely home in the woods on Clear Bottom Lake, I created a couple of bite size gâteaux for the occasion. I've been on a sesame kick lately, having discovered a terrific way to create sesame brittle, compliments of Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh. More about that in a bit.

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Rather than cramming a lot of recipe info into one post, I'm doing a two-parter, one part for each little cake.

First up is gateau de Pâques, a classic chocolate biscuit for Easter that I've made a number of times and have never found wanting.

The French word biscuit generally refers to a cake in the sponge family that's made with eggs that are first separated, then the yolks and whites are beaten separately before combining various components at the end to make a light and tasty cake.  On the other hand, biscuit sec usually refers to a cookie.

In English the word biscuit has a completely different connotation. While the Brits call cookies biscuits (as the French do biscuit sec), we Americans think of shortcake à la buttermilk biscuits or biscuits and gravy. Language is so cool and fun to figure out, don't you think?!

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For this fun little cake I used one of my favorite square savarin fleximolds from Silikomart, which allows me to fill the "dent" with something good before garnishing with a swirl of another something good.

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And then adding another something even better!

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That sesame brittle is oh-so addicting - just ask Steve.

Let's do the recipes!

First the sesame brittle, so you'll have it ready to go for the garnish. And it keeps for a number of days.

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Sesame brittle (makes plenty!)

The beauty of this brittle method is you don't have to use a candy thermometer or worry about reaching a certain temperature. I LOVE that!

  1.  Toast 125 g sesame seeds (mix of 1/3 black and 2/3 white or all white like I did) either in the oven at 325ºF for about 10 minutes until nicely brown, stirring occasionally, or in a skillet on medium-low on the stove top. Do what you're most comfortable with. Set aside. Increase the oven temp to 350ºF.
  2. Have two half sheet pans and four pieces of parchment at the ready. 
  3. In a medium saucepan put 100 g granulated sugar, 100 g light corn syrup, 50 g unsalted butter and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Stirring constantly on high heat, blend the mixture and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the toasted sesame seeds.
  4. Put two pieces of parchment (or Silpat!) on a heat proof surface (I used two overturned half sheet pans) and pour half of the sesame mixture on each. Cover with the other parchment pieces and roll with a rolling pin until about 1/8 inch thick. 
  5. Slide the paper with the sesame caramel onto half sheet pans and remove the top layer of parchment. Peel it back gently and push down any caramel that might stick. Bake for about 20 minutes until nicely browned. Remove from oven, cool and break into shards.
  6. Stores nicely in single layers between pieces of parchment or waxed paper in a well sealed container. The first batch I made lasted a couple of weeks and served as garnish for a number of goodies!
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Gateau de Pâques (for one 8-9" cake or multiple small cakes)

  1. Heat your oven to 350ºF and have your molds of choice at the ready. Butter and flour a 8-9" cake or springform pan OR you can use any shape multi-well silicone flexi-mold (no butter/flour needed) or mini-muffin tins lined with decorative papers. You decide.
  2. Melt 200 g dark chocolate (I used 61%) and 200 g unsalted butter gently over a bain marie. I like to do this over very low heat and once the melting has begun, I turn the heat off and let the residual warmth finish the melting process. Stir the mixture every once in awhile as it melts.
  3. Once you have that going, separate 4 cold eggs. NOTE: Eggs separate best when cold so do that at the beginning of your prep. The whites will be beaten separately and whip best when warm so it's all part of planning ahead!!
  4. In a large bowl whisk the 4 yolks with 150 g sugar until thickened and more pale. Blend in the melted chocolate/butter mixture.
  5. Blend in 100 g all purpose flour.
  6. In a clean bowl beat the 4 egg whites with a pinch of salt to soft peaks. Gently fold the whites into the the above mixture.
  7.  Pipe or scoop the mixture into your chosen molds and bake. Your baking time will vary depending on the size of your molds. An 8" cake may take about 30 minutes, whereas mini cakes may take about 10. Look for a more dry appearance to the surface of the batter without gooey centers. 
  8. Let cool and unmold. Garnish with ganache or whatever you'd like! I made a basic 1:1 dark chocolate ganache to fill the wells, then piped a swirl of whipped white chocolate ganache (1:1 cream to chocolate, chilled then whipped) on top and added some shards of sesame brittle. Whew!
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The texture of these cakes is light and oh so smooth. And the whipped white chocolate ganache and sesame brittle finished 'em off so deliciously. You gotta try these, I'm telling you now.

Stay tuned for Part 2: toasted coconut lime cakes!

Pear almond cake

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This cake is inspired by a recipe in Ottolenghi and Goh's book "Sweet" - an apricot almond cake that I decided to change up to a pear version.

Although I usually think of pears as a fall/winter fruit, their flavor and usefulness in desserts still speaks to me now, with hints of spring in the air. This pear almond cake is dense, moist and oh so delicious! Truth be told, I baked this one in late January and am just getting around to writing about it now. Oh, how time flies.

Bartlett, Bosc or D'Anjou are my usual pear choices, although I must say I usually end up veering toward the Bosc end of the pear spectrum. I simply enjoy their flavor and texture.

I generally prefer to poach my own pears, especially since those that one buys in the grocery store are generally rock hard and need days to ripen appropriately. Poaching helps to coax out that ripened texture and allows them to be used sooner than you would if waiting for them to ripen naturally.

I create a poaching liquid using 2 parts water to 1 or 1.5 parts sugar, giving me a light-ish syrup. I like to add in some lemon zest, a grate or two of nutmeg and perhaps a pinch of ginger and a few pieces of star anise. Nice and lightly spiced. I peel, core and halve my pears. 

The key with poaching is low and slow. The most helpful thing for me is the cartouche -  essentially a round of parchment paper with a small hole created in the center to allow steam to escape, placed cozily over the pears to keep them submerged. It prevents sides or ends of pears from sticking out of the poaching liquid and developing an unsightly brown tinge. We simply can't have that, now can we?

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I let them go until I see a change from a dense whitish color to a more translucent, buttery color. I then stick a fork in to see if the tines go in easily. We're done!

See the translucence!

See the translucence!

The cake is made with your basic ingredients - butter, sugar, egg, flour, a bit of salt, lemon zest, vanilla and almond extracts and some sour cream. A sprinkle of almond flour and the pears are nestled on top of the batter and then covered with an intriguing topping concoction made with butter, sugar, spices, salt and egg. Hmmm - this should be interesting.

Batter in!

Batter in!

Almond Flour sprinkled!

Almond Flour sprinkled!

Pears and topping on! ready to go into the oven

Pears and topping on! ready to go into the oven

Here it is just out of the oven. Looks good!

Here it is just out of the oven. Looks good!

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Let's do the recipe!

1. Butter a 9" springform pan and line the bottom with parchment. Heat the oven to 375ºF.
2. Drain and blot dry your poached pears, then slice each half into quarters. You'll need a couple of pears total (more or less, depending on how you like to arrange your slices).
2. Make the topping: in a medium microwave safe bowl, melt 56 g unsalted butter; stir in 100 g sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander, a pinch of ground ginger, a large pinch of salt; cool for a few minutes then stir in two large lightly beaten eggs and set aside.
3. For the cake, put 84 g unsalted, room temperature butter with 200 g granulated sugar in your mixer bowl with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high for a couple of minutes; add 2 large eggs, one at a time, blending each one in and scraping down the sides of the bowl a couple of times; blend in the zest of one lemon, a teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1/4 teaspoon almond extract.
4. In a separate bowl sift 220 g all purpose flour with 10 g baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt; have 2/3 cup sour cream standing by as well.
5. With the mixer on low add the flour mixture to the butter/sugar/egg mixture alternating with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour.
6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top with an offset spatula. Sprinkle 35 g almond flour over the batter, then arrange your pear slices in a design of your liking.
7. Now spoon/pour the topping mixture over the whole shebang!
8. Bake this baby for about an hour until a tester into the middle comes out clean. Always watch what's going on in there folks!. Cool in the pan for about 20 minutes before unmolding. 
9. Serve warm or at room temperature.

I chose to top it with some lightly sweetened whipped cream (although my cream seemed to have lost some of it's whip!).

This was absolutely delicious! And Steve liked it too. Yay!!!

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Cran-oat-almond shortbread

Before we jump in, don't forget to check out this month's specialties - Valentine's goodies and my favorite chocolate ganache tart!

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Recently inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh's book "Sweet", I put together these absolutely wonderful shortbread cookies (or biscuits as the Brits would say) full of cranberries, oats and almonds. You can choose whether you'd like a white chocolate garnish or prefer them au naturel. Either way they are SO GOOD.

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Some of the ingredients require a bit of prep before putting the final dough together - chop cranberries and soak them in OJ; toast, cool and chop almonds; have butter at room temp - that kind of stuff. Simple but requires some planning on your part. It comes back to that important and well worn advice - always read the recipe through at least twice before you begin.

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I tweaked the recipe, which calls for both all purpose and whole wheat flour, to create my own version using white whole wheat flour and whole wheat pastry flour. As I continue to experiment with different whole grain flours, it's fun to learn about the various nuances of each.

White whole wheat flour is ground from hard white whole wheat, whereas whole wheat pastry flour comes from whole grain soft white wheat. Each contains all the nutrients that come from the whole grain, including the outer bran full of fiber, B vitamins and trace minerals and the small central germ containing antioxidants, vitamin E, B vitamins and healthy fats.

Whole wheat pastry flour is softer and thus lends itself well to things like scones, biscuits, flaky pie and tart crusts and fluffy pancakes. I'll be playing around with different combos and variations as time goes on. Cool. Always so much to learn.

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Now for my version of the recipe and many thanks to Yotam and Helen!

1. Heat your oven to 350ºF. Have a couple of 1/2 sheet pans lined with parchment at the ready.
2. Chop 125 g dried cranberries in half (unless they're already chopped), place them in a microwave safe bowl in 25 ml of orange juice and zap for about 10 seconds. Let them soak while you're getting other things ready. 
3. Place 150 g natural raw skin-on almonds on a baking sheet and toast for 10 minutes. Let cool, rough chop and place in a large bowl.
4. Add 175 g white whole wheat flour, 50 g whole wheat pastry flour, 150 g old fashioned oats and 1/4 teaspoon salt to the bowl with the almonds. Set aside.
5. Put 227 g room temperature unsalted butter, 100 g granulated sugar into which you've rubbed the zest of one or two large oranges (use two for that extra citrus zip!) into a mixer bowl with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium about 2 minutes until blended and light.
6. Add the nut-oat-flour mixture and beat on low to bring it together.
7. Add in the cranberries along with the orange juice and combine on low to mix in.
8. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, bring it into a ball and divide in half. Roll each half to about 1/4 thick. I find it works well, particularly with a slightly sticky dough, to roll between two pieces of film wrap - keeps things neat!
9. Chill the dough for an hour or so before cutting out. Choose whatever shape and size you'd like, cut and place on the parchment lined sheets. As you can see I tried some different versions.
10. Bake about 18 minutes until lightly browned. Cool completely.

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If you choose to garnish your cookies with white chocolate, either drizzled, edge-dipped or spread in a layer, I found it worked best for me to microwave my Guittard wafers at half power for 30-45 second bursts, stirring until melted. My results are rustic for sure, but I. LOVE. THESE. COOKIES.

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