Fun with afternoon tea

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Having returned from our France/Netherlands trip about a week and a half ago, we're slowly getting back into the swing of things here in Grand Rapids, MI. It took awhile for our colds to finally say adieu, and I must say it's a wonderful feeling to have some energy back in one's step.

Before we left on our voyage, I was already planning the goodies for another afternoon tea event at Heron Woods/Heron Manor , an independent/assisted living facility just down the street from our home.

Kim, the activities director, is a powerhouse of ideas for fun events and gatherings for the residents there. This time the tea was to follow an interesting presentation on how women dressed in Victorian times. Kim and her volunteer assistant, Dave, had the tables set just so with nosegays of pink roses, a beautiful assortment of teacups provided by one of the residents, as well as napkins folded to resemble roses.

Kim set out 26 (one for each letter of the alphabet) different decorated and hand written cards, one at each place, that included an interesting tidbit about or having something to do with tea. My favorite was a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt -"women are like tea bags - they don't know their strength until they get into hot water". Hmmmm.

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The menu consisted of two savories and three sweets. I had a pretty clear idea in my head of how I wanted to execute the prep. It's great to have plenty of time to plan/prep/bake/garnish for an event like this, and, fortunately, my days were wide open leading up to the actual day.

Cheddar pecan financier

Cheddar pecan financier

The financier process was très facile: make my usual financier base batter a couple of days ahead, fridge it until ready to use, then fold in grated sharp cheddar cheese and chopped toasted pecans just before baking. I used my favorite square savarin flexi-molds and, after baking, filled the top well with a bit of grated cheese, a dollop of apricot jam and a shard of toasted pecan to give it that je ne sais quoi. Yum.

Cucumber crème fraiche éclairs

Cucumber crème fraiche éclairs

The éclairs were a blast to make. I used my favorite pâte à choux base, added in a bit of salt and pepper and a skosh of ground mustard, piped 'em out, topped 'em with a grated aged cheddar-like Dutch cheese we found at Kingma's market here in GR and baked these little cuties. So satisfying. And the beauty is they can be baked several days ahead, frozen, then crisped back up for about 10 minutes in a 325ºF oven before cooling and filling. How great is that!

Below you can see the assembly process. It's all about being organized. For these I made my own crème fraiche (1 cup heavy cream plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk, let sit at room temp for 8-24 hours until thickened, stir and refrigerate), added a bit of salt and pepper plus lemon zest/juice and finely chopped chives. It didn't thicken as much as I expected, BUT I whipped it up and it was fantastic. Pipe-able and easy to fill les petits choux.

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I sandwiched them with the crème fraiche, a cucumber slice and julienned carrots and topped 'em off with a spurt of crème and a sliver of chive.

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Now for the sweets. First up - a new chocolate cake recipe that I brought home from Paris. Our friend Val gave it to me and attributes it to Hélène Darroze, the Michelin starred French chef with restaurants in Paris, London and Moscow. It's a definite keeper.

Here it is in a nutshell: melt 250 g chopped bittersweet chocolate (I like 62-64%) with 250 g unsalted butter; whisk in 250 g cane sugar and 70 g sifted all purpose flour; add 4 large eggs beaten en omelette. The recipe calls for a buttered and floured 9" cake pan, but, as is my wont, I love to bake cakes in petite flexi-molds. And, wouldn't you know it? I purchased a couple of mini-kouglof Silikomart flexis at Mora in Paris and was so ready to give them a spin. Perfect is the word. These baked about 18-20 minutes at 325ºF convection - just until looking dry and a bit cracked on the top. So fudge-y and delicious.

And guess what?! They can be baked ahead and frozen. Just pull them the night before you need them and let them thaw in the fridge over night. Now you're ready to garnish.

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I posted recently about another petite chocolate cake with whipped white chocolate ganache and sesame crunch - I added the same garnish to these babies. Go with a good thing I always say.

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Next up - strawberry mascarpone tartelette - pâte sucrée crust, whipped/lime zested mascarpone cream topped with fresh strawberries tossed in a bit of raspberry jam and, for the piéce de resistance, a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds for crunch and a bit of tang.

And here we go again - the shells can be blind baked and frozen several days ahead. Thaw overnight in the fridge and fill when ready. Love that planning and prepping!

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And last but not least - orange vanilla ricotta custards on an orange cornmeal shortbread base.

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The shortbread can be baked several days ahead and kept in a sealed container in the fridge or freezer. The custards can be baked in your favorite flexi-mold shape, cooled and then frozen until you're ready to pop them out of the molds and settle them onto the shortbread base. Add a dollop of caramel or jam on the cookie to hold the custard in place.

If you do the assembly just a couple of hours ahead of serving, they'll hold and thaw very nicely in the fridge and are the perfect creamy texture when it comes time to eat. Yeah, works for me!

I topped them with a small dollop of orange marmalade for just a bit of color.

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Everyone enjoyed the menu as well as the time to sit and chat with friends on a beautiful summer-like afternoon. 

If you're interested in goodies for your own afternoon tea, don't hesitate to hop on over to the contact page and send me a note. We can put our heads together to create just the right assortment for you!

Since this post is more about planning/prepping/assembling and not specifically about individual recipes, feel free to email me for any recipes which interest you, whether it's pâte à choux, financier base, pâte sucrée, ricotta custard or mascarpone cream. I'd be happy to share them with you. That's what makes it fun!

Now go out there, have a delicious Memorial Day weekend and offer up a hearty welcome to summer!!

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Happy Valentine's Day!

Sharing love and enjoyment with those who mean the most to us is just one of the things to remember on Valentine's Day. 

I love to share with all of you the joy that comes from creating delicious treats.

Here are just a few.

Matcha raspberry hearts


Apricot linzer cookies


Tart cherry, double chocolate, salted caramel shortbread hearts

Chocolate hazelnut financier

Once these little cakes are turned out of the mold, there's a wonderful well just waiting to be filled with something delicious.


Praliné ganache and candied hazelnut garnish

Here's a pistachio version filled with dark chocolate raspberry ganache and garnished with a tiny swirl of raspberry butter cream and crowned with candied pistachio.


One chocolate and one pistachio went into small purple boxes with red ribbon - so cute!


I ended up making 4 flavors of shortbread (double dark chocolate, tart cherry, praline and matcha) and tucking them into red boxes with purple ribbon.


For a pre-Valentine's family gathering I did a slight variation on the chocolate hazelnut financier by filling them with dark chocolate ganache and topping with a swirl of whipped milk chocolate ganache and candied hazelnut.


For the pièce de résistance I made a raspberry gateau Breton with a thin layer of raspberry jam baked between two layers of Breton dough.  Once cooled I topped it with whipped caramel mascarpone cream and garnished with raspberries, a light pink ruffle around the edge and some candied pistachios for some lovely color contrast.



Sweets for the sweet.  Happy Valentine's Day to one and all!

Enjoy.

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.

A trio of treats for Sunday lunch at Mom's

Steve and I are currently in Grand Rapids spending time with my mom through the Mother's Day weekend.  She had planned a Sunday luncheon for a group of 12 lady friends so, of course, I had to make something for dessert!

The plan - blueberry financier,  moelleux chocolat and Breton shortbread with orange mascarpone and fresh citrus garnish.

lovely colors for the plate

working on the plating

All in all pretty straightforward - chocolate, moist almond cake, buttery Breton, a bit of fruit and some orange zested cream.  What's not to like?


the final medley

It's always fun to put a trio together!


Let's talk financiers

Financiers are one of my favorite things, both to make and to eat.  The classic base is made with egg whites (you don't even have to whip them!), almond flour, all purpose flour, powdered sugar and browned butter (which gives these delectable treats a lovely nutty taste).

I've been using the recipe from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris for a number of years now, although, as is true with sooooo many things, you can find all sorts of recipe variations in pastry books or online.

The story goes that, back in the late 1800's, a pastry chef in the financial district in Paris (la Bourse) created a small rectangular (think gold ingot-like) cake that could be easily carried back to the office or eaten out of hand without any muss nor fuss.

The petite cake is classically baked in a shallow rectangular mold (lots of images available on the web), but I love the fact that it can be baked in any shape or size your little heart desires.  And the base batter can be made ahead and refrigerated for several days, allowing you to bake different flavor variants throughout the week if you're so inclined.  It's a true artistic palette for the creative baker.

Substitute ground hazelnuts, pistachios or walnuts for the almonds?  You bet!

Add your choice of citrus zest?  Bien sur!

Fold in or top with almost any fruit imaginable?  Absolument!

Garnish with ganache or mascarpone cream?  I think you know the answer!

The preparation is simple, with the most difficult (not really) step being browning the butter.  I can freely admit that I had never browned butter until making financiers in class at LCB.  I have since come to understand how it works, having done it over and over and over again.

For me the key is listening - yes, you heard me - lis-ten-ing.  When you're working in a pastry kitchen and have a bunch of things going on at one time, your senses are your friend.  Use them all!

Put the butter in a saucepan over low heat to start, then crank it up once the butter has melted.  Then let it go.

As the butter cooks the bubbles will start to become more foamy, take on a finer appearance and start rising up in the pan.  Even if you're on the other side of the kitchen, you should be able to hear a change in the sound of the bubbling.  Once you hear it, pay attention!

You'll start seeing those brown bits on the bottom of the pan, and that means it's time to take it off the heat.  There's nothing worse than burned butter, believe you me!

Now on to the preparation!

When making financiers, the amount of batter I make depends on the egg whites I have on hand.  Typically, if I'm making a custard or crème pâtissiére that calls for egg yolks, I save the whites with the singular goal of making financiers.  You can keep the whites in the fridge for a number of days (remember, some macaron makers want their egg whites to be aging in the fridge for a week or so before using them).

What could be more perfect?

A reasonable base recipe uses 240 g/8 egg whites (you can use liquid pasteurized whites without any problem) and will give you two dozen or so small 30 g/1 ounce cakes.  You can adjust your recipe by dividing or multiplying your ingredients based on the weight of egg whites you have. Without getting too technical here, once you've gotten used to weighing ingredients and adjusting your recipe to suit your needs, you're golden.

So, here goes.  Place 240 g/8 egg whites in a bowl, add a splash of vanilla extract and set aside.  In a separate bowl, large enough to mix all the ingredients, whisk together 260 gm/ 2 2/3 cup powdered sugar, 100 gm/1 cup almond flour and 100 gm/3/4 cup all purpose flour.  Brown 150 g/11 tablespoons unsalted butter and pour it over the dry ingredients (I scrape all the brown bits into the mix too).  Let it sit for a minute or two, then add the egg whites and blend it all with a whisk until everything is incorporated.  It may be a bit lumpy, but that's OK.

The batter should be refrigerated before use.  I pour it into a container, place plastic wrap directly on the surface, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to several days.

When you're ready to bake, be sure to stir up the batter before piping or pouring it into your molds.  The longer the batter sits, the more the butter has a tendency to settle to the bottom, so just give it a good stir to reincorporate it.

I happened to have some silicone canelé flexi-molds with me during my recent visit with my mom and used those to bake up some financiers natures - just plain, no additions, no thrills, no chills, no frills.  Pipe the batter, filling the molds about 3/4 full.  Bake at 350º for about 20 minutes.  Your baking time will vary depending on the size of your cakes (and your oven!), so, as always, pay attention to what's going on in there.

Here are just a few examples of what you can do with financier batter. Before I really got into using silicone molds I baked financiers in buttered and floured mini-muffins pans.  This version has a dollop of jam (peach, apricot or whatever) and some blueberries placed on top before baking.

Here you go!

The jam settles into the center and the berries stay on top - cool!

Here's a medley of pear ginger, pistachio orange crumble and matcha raspberry - some of my faves!

This one is dried cherry . . .

and this is cocoa hazelnut . . .

and I think this one is cranberry hazelnut.

Or you can bake the batter in loaf pans comme ça . . .  These are peach and blueberry mini-loaves.

I've also baked financier batter topped with plum slices and walnut crumble in a blind baked tart shell.  Or use peach slices or cherries. Delicious!

I could go on and on about financiers, but, alas, I must cease and desist.

But wait . . . just a few more parting thoughts.

How about adding lemon zest and berries (blue, black or rasp - you choose!) to the base batter, or drizzle finished cakes with caramel after baking and pop back into the oven for a few minutes to set the caramel.

Or fold in some pumpkin puree and spices like nutmeg, ginger and allspice to the base batter.

For some savory options fold in some grated cheddar and diced apples, or top with goat cheese and herbs of choice before baking.

OK enough.  Get in the kitchen and make your own special versions - you can do it!

Some small treats for a Friday morning meeting

I trust everyone is enjoying their holiday season and not getting too harried.  Just remember to slow down and take some deep breaths every now and then!

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way . . . .




Early this past week I received a request to provide an assortment of small goodies for the annual board meeting of Urban Ventures, a state funded, non-profit organization that exists to assist micro businesses get started in Rhode Island.

I had worked with UV back in 2010-2011 as I was developing my small pastry business, so when the call came in, I was happy to oblige.

I turned to some of my tried and true favorites - financier, pain au chocolat, profiterole, and bouchon.


petite pain au chocolat

I also wanted to offer something else made using croissant dough (in addition to the pain au chocolat).  It just so happened that I had a small amount of crème d'amandes in my fridge just begging to be used, so I proceeded to make a small batch of crème pâtissière and blended equal parts of the two crèmes to make frangipane.  I had been envisioning an apricot-almond combo and finally settled on cutting the rolled out croissant dough into small rectangles, proofing, then topping with frangipane and apricot slices before baking.  And here they are!


apricot almond pastry - the hit of the meeting!

I've made a number of different financier over the years, including pear-ginger, chocolate-hazelnut, orange-cranberry, apple-cheddar, pumpkin, herbed goat cheese, lemon-berry, just to name a few.  It's such a delicious and versatile base - definitely one of my faves!

This time I went with matcha-raspberry, a regular (and very popular) offering in the past during my Saturday winter farmers market days in Pawtucket.  I love to bake them in different shapes too and find that the vast array of silicone flexi-molds currently available makes for all sorts of tempting choices.  Squares!  Thanks Joe!

matcha-raspberry financier, just out of the oven

My bouchon are based on a recipe entitled "French Puffs" that I found in Portland, Maine's Standard Baking Company's book .  Once I had made them I wasn't sure why the word "puff" was used, since they aren't at all puffy.  In fact they are a dense, moist cake, full of flavor.  I adapted the recipe, adding coriander and ginger to the nutmeg in the batter and then rolling the warm, butter-dipped nuggets in coriander sugar.

My sister Joyce once described these as "the best donut hole I've ever had".  I bake them in small, round flexi-molds, the result prompting Steve to name them bouchon 'cuz they kinda look like champagne corks.

coriander buttermilk bouchon

I happened to have some choux puffs in the freezer (a great item to have on hand for those unexpected requests!), so profiteroles here we come.  A truly delicious combo is to pair fresh fruit with whipped caramel mascarpone cream - what a marriage of fresh, sometimes tart with creamy, smooth goodness.

For the cream I combine equal weights heavy cream and mascarpone, add in some vanilla and, in this case, my homemade caramel sauce to provide a hint of sweetness, then whip it all to soft peaks.  I cut the tops off the puffs, pipe a swirl of cream into the bottom and top with fresh fruit.  In this case I used kiwi, orange and pomegranate seeds, primarily for the lovely seasonal color combination.  And don't forget - it tastes good too!

fresh fruit profiterole

The table . . .




The pain au chocolat and apricot almond pastries . . .




I anticipated the possibility of leftovers and had small, to-go bags on hand.  Many of the attendees took advantage of the "doggy-bag" option and left with an assortment to share with office mates, co-workers, friends or family.

A good morning indeed.