Cherry almond cornmeal cake and pecan toffee shortbread stars

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

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

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

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

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

First the cake. 

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

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

I puréed some cherries . . . .

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

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

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

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

Now the cookies.

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

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

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


Now for the recipes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy VERY belated 4th everyone!!

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

Shortbread gift boxes for the holidays

Here it is - only 8 days left until Christmas!  It's definitely winter here in Michigan with a number of inches of snow on the ground and more in the offing.  Brrrrr cold too!

I've been busy baking and packaging my assorted shortbread cookies at Patricia's Chocolate shop in Grand Haven.

There's a miniature version of the shortbread bar, reminiscent of my days at Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket RI, from which customers can choose their favorite flavors for simple packaging in small bags.

And then there's a small display table for the gift boxes with signage compliments of Paul Christopher, Patricia's husband and graphics guru.  What a talent!

It's a whirlwind of activity at the shop this time of year, and Patty keeps everything under control with her ever steady presence and attention to detail.

You should check it out!  Patricia's Chocolate at 126 Washington Ave, Grand Haven MI. You'll be happy you did.


Exciting news!

This past week The French Tarte became licensed to work out of the kitchen at Patricia's Chocolate in Grand Haven, Michigan.  Hooray!

What does this mean you might ask?  Well to start out I'll be baking and offering my tasty all butter shortbread in Patty's shop, accepting orders for shortbread gift boxes and developing a schedule of travel from GR to GH to dovetail with my teaching schedule at Sur La Table here in GR.

Shortbread bar

Taking it step by step.

In the meantime I wanted to share with you some of things I've been making in recent months.  

In early August, as I birthday present to myself, I baked an assortment of goodies (from left to right):  pavé aux amandes, cocoa hazelnut financiers, bubble eclairs with raspberry currant cream (Yum!) and chocolate milkshake tarts. 

By now many of you know my attraction to financiers and tarts.  What can I say?  I just can't help it!

Once we returned from our trip to France in early October, I've been back in the kitchen doing this and that as well as trying some new shortbread flavors (how about coffee cardamom, oatmeal ginger or coconut lime?!).

My baking activities often seem to revolve around what I happen to have in the fridge - some of my lightly spiced poached pears being just one example. What better than a batch of financier batter to create pear-caramel and raspberry-pistachio crumble versions for our freezer.

The pears also encouraged me to make some individual versions of tarte bourdaloue using the recipe that I had brought back from Le Notre in Paris.

Of course I simply can't forget the household favorite (hint, hint - guess what Steve loves?), the quintessential caramel nut tart.  This go around I used some chocolate tart dough that had been waiting in the freezer for that very thing.

Chock full-o-nuts, oh-so-delicious and always a hit.

And for something just a little different - bagels!  These were from a class I taught at Sur La Table where the results were stupendous.  Chewy, not tough, great depth of flavor and definitely a make-again recipe. These are the "everything" version, the deeply browned exterior being due to molasses in the dough as well as some molasses in the bagel boiling water.  Yup!

And so the adventures continue.  Stay tuned.