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!

Mocha custard tart

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Fall is definitely in full swing here in west Michigan, even though we've had some unseasonably warm days of late. But we'll take it! Winter will be here soon enough.

This weekend's dinner for the Galloway household consisted of Steve's layered onion/carrot/garlic/chicken/potato dish oven-cooked low and slow in our Staub enameled cast iron cocotte. Mom contributed a spinach strawberry salad, and I opted for a tart recipe I've had my eye on for awhile. I mean really, it's all about tarts for The Tarte!

I believe I've previously mentioned Alice Medrich's book Flavor Flours which I discovered in our local library some months ago. I've since purchased my own copy and am so satisfied with the recipes I've made so far. The book focuses on a number of alternate flours like teff, sorghum, chestnut, rice, oat and corn as well as nut flours (which I am totally on board with!).

The tart recipe calls for a GF teff chocolate crust, but I opted to use my stand-by chocolate short dough from the CIA's Baking and Pastry book. It was the first book I purchased after completing my Diplôme de Pâtisserie and mon stage in Paris in early 2007. Even though it's an older 2004 edition I still turn to it time and time again for all sorts of tips, techniques and recipes.

And I've been using this chocolate short dough ever since. 

Tart ring lined and ready to bake

Tart ring lined and ready to bake

After fork-pricking the dough all over, chill the lined ring in the freezer for 15 minutes or so while heating the oven to 325ºF. The chill stabilizes the butter and helps the dough keep its shape during blind baking. Line the firm dough with a round of parchment, fill it with dried beans and bake for 12-15 minutes with weights, then another 5-8 minutes without weights. The crust should be set and look dry. Remember - it's your job to watch what's going on in that oven!

All baked and ready to fill

All baked and ready to fill

Lower the oven temp to 300ºF for the next phase of the project.

Just a note here. If you'd like to change things up a bit, you can use any pie or tart dough your little heart desires - choose your favorite pâte brisée or pâte sucrée (and it doesn't even have to be chocolate) or even a chocolate wafer or graham cracker or toasted coconut crumb crust. Add some chopped nuts if you want - you decide. Just remember to blind bake it first.

The KEY part to this tart is THE FILLING, and, once you make it, you'll know what I mean. So easy and so deliciously smooth it involves heating 1.5 cups heavy cream, 130 g sugar, 35 g cocoa powder (Dutch process or natural) and 55 g unsalted butter in a saucepan on the medium heat, stirring until everything is blended and it starts to simmer around the edges.

Remove from the heat and whisk in 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder and 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract. Set aside.

Once the blind baked shell is out of the oven, whisk 1 large egg plus 1 yolk into the cream mixture and pour the filling into the hot crust. It's pretty loose so steady yourself for gentle placement into the oven without sloshing. You can do it.

Filled and ready for the oven

Filled and ready for the oven

Bake for 10-15 minutes or even longer. I baked mine around 18-20 minutes before I was content with a nice wiggly/jiggly custard without waves rippling across the surface.

Cool on a rack and serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Here's my cooled tart - kinda reminiscent of a moonscape don't ya think? 

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While Alice dusts her tart with cocoa powder I was going for a bit more pizazz. I usually have some baked cookie or streusel crumbs in my freezer to use at a moment's notice whether it's to top ice cream, add a crunchy layer to a cakey-creamy type of concoction or to garnish a tart. Yup.

Out came the chocolate shortbread cookie crumbs which I sprinkled over the top of the tart, leaving a clear edge around the periphery.

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Next up -crème Chantilly! But of course. Steve claims that anything is better with whipped cream on it, and, in this case, he was absolutely right. But then I pretty much knew that already.

For one cup of heavy cream I add 1-2 tablespoons powdered sugar and a splash of pure vanilla extract. Whip to medium soft peaks, enough so it will hold its shape, and spread or pipe as you wish.

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Soft, pillowy mounds of cream like a string of rustic pearls entice us to dig in. And dig in we did.

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This is one of the BEST fillings I have had in a long time. Smooth, luscious, creamy yet light with just the right intensity of chocolate and a hint of espresso - aaaaahhhhh. And the chocolate short crust, chocolate crumbs and whipped cream provided just the right marriage of textures and flavors. Oh boy.

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Yes there were leftovers but the good news is this will keep covered in the fridge for a couple of days. Don't waste a bite of this one folks.

Before I leave you I'd like to share a few autumn images from our corner of the planet. Enjoy the season wherever you are and take care.

Pistachio and chocolate butter cake from Samantha Seneviratne

A post holiday gift to myself was the book the new sugar and spice - A RECIPE FOR BOLDER BAKING by Samantha Seneviratne.

Many of the recipes have caught my eye.  My first trial from the book, coffee cardamom shortbread, was a definite success.

Next up is the cover recipe for pistachio and chocolate butter cake, highlighting the use of pistachio paste, cardamom and chocolate chunks (and butter, of course).


The butter, eggs and milk should be at room temperature.

Butter a 9" springform pan and heat the oven to 350º.

Do your ingredient mise en place . . . .

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and let's go!

Whisk 223 grams flour, 7 grams baking powder, one teaspoon freshly ground cardamom (hard to see, but it's there on the left side in with the flour) and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl.

Cream 113 grams/1 stick room temperature, unsalted butter with 75 grams granulated sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy.

Add two eggs, one at a time, then blend in 198 grams pistachio paste.

Add the flour mixture alternately with 120 ml milk in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour.

Fold in 85 grams chopped dark chocolate (I used a mixture of 56% and 72%).

Put the batter into the springform pan and smooth.  Sprinkle 35 grams coarsely chopped pistachos over the top.

A very straight forward cake batter preparation.

ready for the oven

Bake for about 30-40 minutes.

just out of the oven

How did this work out?  Well, this is one case where it's important to pay attention to what's going on in your oven.

I baked this for a good 50-55 minutes since the center was still loose after the first 30-40 minutes.

At that point all the signs of doneness were there - a tester inserted in the center came out with moist crumbs, the top was nicely browned, there was no central jiggling when I lightly shook the pan, and it felt firm in the center.  Plus the aroma was enticing!

BUT!  Once this cake cooled it sank significantly in the middle and was still not thoroughly baked through in the center.  Disappointing.  You pay attention, you think it's done, but then . . . .

Perhaps the fact that my springform pan was sitting on an insulated cookie sheet kept the oven heat from getting properly into the center - who knows!

However, all was not lost.  I simply cut out the center goo, sliced the cake and served it with Samantha's roasted banana ice cream (see my next post!).  Pretty tasty indeed.

The cake is dense and buttery with a lovely cardamom-pistachio-chocolate thing going on.

If I were to do this recipe again, I would bake the cake in small flexi-molds or individual cake pans.  The baking time would be less, and the smaller portions would bake through more evenly.

Live and learn.  That's what it's all about.



Mille-feuille chocolat - chocolate puff and other stuff

Before I start on the topic at hand, here are some pics of the delectable chocolate bread pudding I made using the left over chocolate croissant spirals from my last post.  I diced up the spirals, poured a basic chocolate custard over the pieces in my favorite square C&B ramekins, sprinkled on some vanilla sugar and baked 'em in a water bath.





just out of the oven

Just imagine one served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Yes, indeed.

Now on to the task at hand.  What most of us know as napoleon, mille-feuille (literally "a thousand leaves") is that classic combination of puff pastry layered with vanilla pastry cream.  Of course, as is true of pretty much any classic you can think of, there are a multitude of ways to create variations on the theme.

Years ago, before pastry school was even a gleam in my eye, I made versions of this dessert using good old Pepperidge Farm puff pastry sheets, cut into squares and baked, then simply layered with a cream or custard and fresh fruit and/or a fruit coulis.  Always good.

Once pastry school was under my belt and I experienced what Paris had to offer, mille-feuille was often on my tasting hit list.  During my stage at Pascal Pinaud's shop on rue Monge in the 5th, raspberry-lemon mille-feuille was offered as a special treat only on Sundays.

When done well, the combination of crisp, flaky, buttery puff and smooth and creamy custard can't be beat.

Flash forward to the spring of 2013 when I took a class at Christophe Felder's school in Paris on mille-feuille chocolat.  I purchased his pastry tome Patisserie! and have been drawn into it lately to refresh myself on the classics as well as get inspiration for some new ideas (new tart coming up soon!).  My eyes lit up at the recipe for mille-feuille chocolat and off I went on a trip down feuilletage chocolat lane.






This recipe calls for cocoa powder added to the détrempe, just as in my recent chocolate croissant experiment.

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I made half a recipe:  250 gm flour, 30 gm cocoa powder, 130 ml cold water, 43 gm melted butter and 5 gm salt mixed together just until everything is incorporated.


the creature from the Black Lagoon!

The détrempe felt dry, and it looked a lot more blotchy than when I make regular puff pastry.  I gave it a couple hour rest in the fridge and prepared the 168 gm butter block.


ready for the beurrage

Once I completed the beurrage and started the folds/turns the dough in general started to look a little better, but still blotchy.


after the first two turns - yikes!

But once all the turns were complete the dough looked and felt better - there was hope after all.


after six turns

I held the dough in the fridge overnight for use the following day.  Otherwise I would typically pop it into the freezer for another time.

When rolling out the puff for mille-feuille, it's important to roll it about 2-3 mm thick.  I divided the dough in two and rolled each piece to fit a quarter sheet pan.

It's important to let the dough rest - otherwise it shrinks when baking (as you'll see in the upcoming pictures).  It's also a good rule to freeze the rolled out puff for 10 minutes or so before baking to help stabilize the dough.


ready to bake

For comparison I baked one quarter sheet with a cooling grid over the pan (seen above) to help limit the puff's rise and the second one topped with a piece of parchment and a second sheet pan to weigh it down (the generally recommended method to keep puff under control).

I did NOT prick either one with a fork, having found instructions on line with and without (Felder's approach) fork pricking.

What really happened in the oven?  The weighted down version puffed anyway, and I actually pushed it down a couple of times during baking to try and keep it flat.

The one with the grid over it puffed up to the limits of the grid, but it ended up more irregular with undulating waves across the surface.

And both of them shrank.




Having chosen the weighted down piece for my assembly, I trimmed the edges and cut it into thirds,




and then a dust of powdered sugar and under the broiler for a couple of minutes to caramelize.






On to the assembly!

I made a simple whipped ganache filling using 250 gm heavy cream and 70 gm chocolate.  While I was piping the first layer I was reminded of the radiatore pasta Steve and I had just eaten a couple of nights before - ruffles!


first whipped ganache layer


second puff layer


second whipped ganache layer


completed layers

Once all the layers were assembled I popped the whole thing into the fridge for 30 minutes before topping with a basic 1:1 ganache.


getting ready to spread the ganache

used a decorative comb for design

The result looked pretty cool, but the flavor of the puff was disappointing - rather boring and not terribly chocolatey.  I also felt the puff layers were too thick and should have been more crisp and flakey.

What would I do differently next time?  Use standard puff pastry (not chocolate), roll it more thinly, let it rest longer so as to reduce shrinkage, and prick the dough with a fork before weighing it down and baking it.

Steve's reaction?  "What's so special about mille-feuille?"

OK, OK - back to the drawing board!













Pain gourmand au chocolat

This was my first attempt at making pains gourmands au chocolat, the second recipe in La Patisserie des Reves by Philippe Conticini, and what a pleasant surprise!

Here I'll share a bit about the process and offer some ingredient suggestions. The recipe is straight forward, the dough easy to prepare and handle, and the final product a lovely roll with a small crumb, nice texture and smooth chocolate flavor.  What a great addition to a special breakfast, weekend brunch or afternoon tea.

Here's a brief synopsis of the process:  melt the chocolate and butter over a bain marie and let cool until tepid.

Mix the rest of the ingredients (except for the chocolate chips) and knead on low for 5 minutes and then on medium for 5 minutes.  Turn back to low speed and add the tepid chocolate-butter mixture in three additions, blending after each addition until incorporated.

As you can see my 6 qt KitchenAid can handle this amount of dough very easily.  See how the dough has cleaned the sides of the bowl.  Now add the chocolate chips on low speed.

And here's the dough, all chocolate chipped, ready to be divided and shaped into boules.

Above: boules ready for a 3 hour room temp rise.

Below: after the rise, egg washed and sprinkled with raw sugar

Just out of the oven . . . . .

and time for a taste!

Steve and I sliced into one for a first taste sans garniture, then followed that with a dollop of raspberry jam, which was delightful.

The wheels are already turning with other possibilities - how about sandwiched with layers of chocolate ganache and caramel mascarpone cream?  Or a chocolate version of Bostock with chocolate almond (or hazelnut!) cream and lightly spiced poached pear?  Or a delicious bread pudding with tart cherries, pecans and chocolate chunks?  Just imagine!

Now for a few ingredient notes: when the recipe calls for chocolat noir, sucre roux, fleur de sel, cacao en poudre, I use the following:  Valrhona Manjari 64%, coarse raw sugar, Beanilla's vanilla fleur de sel (one of my favorite things!), and Penzey's Dutch process cocoa powder. 

It is not uncommon for French recipes to call for water and powdered milk in some viennoiserie doughs. When I see those two ingredients, I replace them with whole milk, e.g. 200 ml of water and 12 gm of poudre de lait = 212 gm of whole milk in my book.

This recipe calls for farine type 55 which is a French flour often used for both bread and general baking. Based on online research, as well as some experimentation of my own while in Paris, when type 55 is the recommended flour, here in the USA I use all purpose flour, but replace a percentage (15-20% by weight) with bread flour to yield a decent equivalent of French type 55. Oh, and I use King Arthur!

A note about yeast: many French recipes call for levure boulanger or fresh yeast. I use instant dry yeast and convert by taking 30% by weight of the amount of fresh yeast called for in the recipe.  e.g.  25 gm fresh yeast = ~7 gm instant. The beauty of instant yeast is longer shelf life (fresh has only 2 weeks at most) and no need to hydrate or "proof" it before adding it into your dough.

I followed the recipe instructions to divide the final dough into six approximately 150 gm boules, but since I generally prefer smaller portions, next time I'd consider 60-80 gm pieces, shaping them into rolls or loaves, depending on what I plan to do with them.

Next up - Chausson Napolitain!