2019 - here we go!

Chocolate chip brioche swirls

Chocolate chip brioche swirls

Wow! We’re already a full week into 2019, and I’ve baked barely a thing, much less written a blog post. After the busy-ness of the mid-November through Christmas hustle and bustle, I’ve been taking a little stay-cation and easing into the New Year. You know - tidying up the house, putting away holiday decorations, starting some financial summaries for tax time (THAT’S vacation you ask??), working on a jigsaw puzzle, going for my walks and contemplating the weeks and months ahead.

I recently learned that in France it’s not proper to wish anyone Happy New Year until January 1st and then you have the entire month to express that particular wish. But come February 1st - nuh-uh, not allowed. So I still have plenty of time, right? Happy New Year everyone!!

At the start of a new year it’s fun to go back over the past year and look at various projects completed and goodies baked. Here are just a few.

My current favorite cookie - Raspberry almond thumbprints

My current favorite cookie - Raspberry almond thumbprints

Maple  pots de crème  with maple walnut shortbread

Maple pots de crème with maple walnut shortbread

Quiche Lorraine -mmmmm good!

Quiche Lorraine -mmmmm good!

Raspberry pistachio spirals and  chausson aux pommes

Raspberry pistachio spirals and chausson aux pommes

Pistachio orange cakes with orange honey Swiss meringue buttercream

Pistachio orange cakes with orange honey Swiss meringue buttercream

Caramel apple  tarte

Caramel apple tarte

Cheesy  gougères

Cheesy gougères

Blueberry custard buns

Blueberry custard buns

Melt-In-Your-Mouth chocolate cakes/white and dark ganache

Melt-In-Your-Mouth chocolate cakes/white and dark ganache

And Let’s not forget the ever favorite  croissant aux amandes

And Let’s not forget the ever favorite croissant aux amandes

Just before Christmas I returned to Sur La Table here in Grand Rapids as Pastry Chef Instructor. So far, so good - macarons, croissants, cast iron desserts (tarte tatin, cherry/chocolate bread pudding, bananas foster) - and more to come in the upcoming weeks. Each month’s schedule almost always has macaron and croissant classes, with seasonal variations in the other baking topics offered. Just visit Sur La Table’s class page to see what’s on the calendar. While the chef instructor schedule isn’t posted until a week ahead, chances are I’ll be teaching a decent percentage of the baking and pastry related classes. Hope to see you there!

So what might 2019 bring? As I age and we experience the loss of the generation before us as well as some of our own generation, it becomes more and more clear how important it is to enjoy each day, take care of ourselves, revel in the company of family and friends and remain upbeat about the future and all that we have. As Steve often says “life is short - go to Paris”.

And of course, here’s to many new baking adventures (sorghum flour anyone?), continuing to learn and teach others this craft that I’ve come to love so much.

Once again - a big Happy New Year to all!

Raspberry custard  tartelettes

Raspberry custard tartelettes

Italian cookie trials and more

It's already November and the holidays are creeping up on us - watch out!!

Lately I've been busy in the kitchen testing out some Italian cookie recipes for holiday gift boxes for a local café. Brutti ma buoni (ugly but good), a ground nut (hazelnut version here) meringue cookie . . . .

Ricciarelli - a classic Senese almond cookie . . . . .

Biscotti doppio cioccolato - double chocolate biscotti . . . .

of course I had to dip some in chocolate!

and semolina shortbread (sorry - no pic!). They all turned out pretty darn tasty!

In the meantime I'm cranking out my own petite shortbread for some sample give away boxes.  I love to hand out goodies for folks to try.

Eight flavors of goodness

Recently I made a batch of reverse puff pastry to have on hand for whatever might come along.  And, being apple season, there's nothing like the combo of buttery puff and lightly sautéed, caramelized apples.  Yum, yum.  Here are some chausson aux pommes I made a couple of weeks ago.

Last week I visited Aquinas College's Browne Center to speak to the ladies there about getting on their "lifelong learning" adult education schedule to teach some pastry classes.  Yeah!

I never like to arrive empty handed so an assortment of treats was in order. In a slightly different take on a chausson I rolled out some puff, cut hexagons, brushed with milk and sprinkled with sugar . . .

and baked them.

puffed and sparkly

I make an indentation in the top of the baked puff, top them with a scoop of the above mentioned apples, drizzle some caramel on and bake them again just to warm the apples through.  So delicious.

I included these apple feuilletée along with matcha-berry financier and some gateau Breton aux amandes et confiture in the goodie box for the Browne center crew.

A brief postscript to the above:  I wrote about gateau Breton in my last post, but this time I topped the dough with either apricot or four fruits jam, a ring of almond cream and some sliced almonds before baking.  What buttery, nutty goodness.

all baked and ready to eat

Lots of fun and much more to do before New Year's Day hits!

Stay tuned.

Playing in the kitchen on a snowy day

A few days ago, during a bout of scattered snow showers, I was in the mood to play a bit in the kitchen.  First I wanted to try my hand at using puff pastry scraps from my freezer as though they were pristine pâte feuilletée (i.e. never been used), and, second, I had some unopened tahini that was dying to be put to use!

First up - the puff pastry project was to test how well puff scraps might actually puff on their second go around.  Up until now, when working with puff pastry or teaching classes on the topic, I've always followed (and given) the advice that one should use the scraps only for things in which you don't desire or need much of a puff factor.  Some good examples are cheese straws, palmiers, tart, flan or quiche crusts and even millefeuille, in which pâte feuilletée is one of the main components.

Chausson aux pommes is one of my favorite apple pastries to make, and since I had a couple of Granny Smith apples in the fridge, chausson was my choice for this test.  I love how the tartness of the apples marries so well with the buttery pastry.

I peel, core and dice the apples and sauté them in butter and vanilla sugar.  This time I also added some of my homemade caramel sauce, hoping to have a richer end product.

sauté under way

pretty nicely caramelized

I divided up my puff scraps and rolled each out into a rough circle.  After a short rest I cut rounds

which were then rolled out into ovals and topped with apples and an extra drizzle of caramel.

After egg washing the lower edge I close them up, press the edges to seal, egg wash and score the surface and sprinkle 'em with vanilla sugar.  Heat the oven to 450 and, meanwhile, pop the unbaked chaussons in the freezer to firm them up and stabilize the dough before they go into the hot oven.

ready to bake
I usually bake these for about 20-25 minutes, watching what's going on in the oven and ratcheting the temp down as I go to achieve a nicely browned surface and a fully baked interior.

And YES, they puffed!!

Now I will admit that some of my edge seals left a bit to be desired and some of the innards leaked out, but these guys were mighty tasty.  Just ask Steve.

The moral of the story - yes, puff scraps will rise again!

Next came the tahini challenge.  I had shortbread on the brain as a follow up to a tahini shortbread recipe I had tried several years ago.  That one was from Maura Kilpatrick, the pastry chef at Sofra Bakery in Cambridge.  I enjoyed the taste but wasn't quite sure how I felt about the texture - kind of like a PB cookie, but more of a stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth yet crumbly number.  It definitely had possibilities, and I wanted to give tahini another go.

After some online research I decided on "Chocolate Tahini Sablés", a recipe I found on the site "one hundred eggs".  I've developed a taste for coriander and wondered how that might fit into the flavor profile.

Off I went to my trusty "Flavor Bible", a book that was strongly recommended to me by my former chef at Gracie's, Joe Hafner.  One can find almost any ingredient accompanied by a list of all of the things that might go well with it.  I was surprised that "tahini paste", as such, was not included in the book, but, upon checking out sesame seeds, I found that coriander was indeed one of the possibilities.  Hmmmm, now there's an idea.

the sesame seed (white) list

Interestingly, this recipe calls for a hard boiled egg yolk, which brought back memories of making Italian canestrelli cookies while in school in Florence.  It seems that the "hard boiled egg" type of cookie is common in Germany, Poland, Slovenia and Italy (and probably many others).  The yolk contributes to the light, crumbly nature of this class of sablés.

First I boiled a couple of eggs (so I would have plenty to make myself an egg salad sandwich for lunch!), cooled them down in ice water and extracted one of the yolks for the recipe.

I assembled my ingredients, replacing a teaspoon of instant espresso powder with ground espresso, adding 1/2 teaspoon of coriander to the mix, and planning a mini-chocolate-chip stir-in at the end.

Here goes:  In a separate bowl whisk together 195 gm flour, 28 gm cocoa powder (I prefer Dutch process), 1 teaspoon of ground espresso and about 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander.

dry ingredients

Push the egg yolk through a fine strainer, then add 140 gm room temperature butter, 140 gm well stirred tahini (see side note below), 42 gm granulated sugar, 42 gm brown sugar (I used dark) and 1 teaspoon of salt.

pouring the tahini in

Blend all these in a mixer and cream for about 4 minutes till lightened and smooth.

nicely creamed

Side note - the online recipe calls for one cup/5 oz of tahini; I found that when weighing the 5 oz or 140 gm, it was actually closer to 2/3 cup.

Add the flour/cocoa mixture and blend just until combined.

Stir in 100 gm mini chocolate chips  . . .

ready to shape
and divide dough into 4.

Another side note:  I prefer to work with smaller amounts of dough when shaping logs, so, whereas the online recipe suggests dividing the dough in two, I divided it in 4.

logs ready for the fridge
I shaped 2 square, 1 triangle and 1 round.

This dough is soft, so it's important that it has a proper chill after forming the logs, before slicing and baking.

I like to bake my shortbread "low and slow" so I heated the oven to 300º, coated my shortbread log in raw sugar, sliced 1/4 inch slices and popped them in the freezer before baking.

ready for the oven
I baked them approximately 20-25 minutes until set and looking dry.

Boy oh boy, are these crumbly with a lovely, melt-in-your-mouth texture.  And the espresso and saltiness comes through very nicely.  Whether the presence of coriander is detectable is unclear, but the overall flavor is definitely a thumbs up!

Since I'm known to crave shortbread with my morning cappuccino or my afternoon tea, I popped these chocolate tahini sablés into the fridge with some salted caramel that I had baked the other day.

I'm set.

yes sirree!