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!

Nutty rosemary and lemon/pistachio/sesame shortbread

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I LOVE shortbread! I think back to those childhood days of eating Lorna Doone cookies and how much I enjoyed their crumbly butteriness (was there really butter in those babies??). I've come a long way down the shortbread trail since then. Yes, I know I've gone on about this topic in the past, but good things deserve a little review every now and then, right?

Depending on what part of the world you hang out in, these cookies can be referred to as biscuits (thanks to the Brits), shortbread (more Scottish - think Walkers) or sablés (thanks to the French).

My approach follows the traditional Scottish method - a simple combo of sugar/butter/flour, and you're good to go. Typically along the lines of 1-2-3 dough, you weigh out 1 part sugar to 2 parts butter to 3 parts flour and mix 'em up. You can play around with the ratios (decrease the sugar and increase the butter a bit) to yield an even more buttery cookie.

I have two base recipes that I use regularly. One uses granulated cane sugar and one confectioner's sugar (gives 'em a slightly more tender texture?). You can play around with different sugars on your own and decide which gives you the texture you most enjoy.

And why do I use two different bases you might ask? Because I can and so can you!

Add in your favorite citrus zest, spices, chopped nuts, chopped chocolate, dried fruit - the possibilities go on and on.

There are two mixing methods: sanding and what I like to call blending (I think of this one as just short of creaming - you're not trying to aerate the dough, just blending everything together).

The first involves weighing your sugar and flour into a mixing bowl, dicing cold butter and sanding it into the dry ingredients to coarse crumbs. At that point you just press into a pan and bake it. You can take the mixing a step further, going past the coarse crumbs until the dough holds together, then wrap, chill and roll out later, cutting into any shape that suits your fancy.

Both methods result in a lovely crumbly/crispy/buttery cookie, although, with the sanding and press in method, the texture is a bit more crumbly and melt-in-your-mouth. I make mine both ways and enjoy them equally.

If you look at LOTS of shortbread cookies recipes, you may notice that many of the French sablés add egg (whole or yolk) to the dough as a binder. They're delicious too! 

Periodically I enjoy changing up my flavor offerings. This time I had pecans in the freezer and sesame seeds in the cupboard.

First up - rosemary pecan.

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Over the years I occasionally make rosemary roasted nuts, usually walnuts or pecans, that are absolutely delicious as an appetizer along with a cheese or two. For a savory cookie, I chop some of the already rosemary-ied nuts and add them into my dough. Yum. So delicious.

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Next - lemon pistachio sesame.

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This one adds in some toasted sesame seeds, lemon zest/juice and chopped unsalted raw pistachios. Once baked, I brush them with honey and pop them back into the oven for a few minutes to set the honey. Oh man are they good!

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On to the base recipes (plus additions!)

Rosemary pecan:

  1. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment blend 75 g granulated cane sugar with 200 g diced, room temperature unsalted butter. 
  2. Add 250 g all purpose flour and blend in just until the dough comes together. Note/tip: I've started replacing about 1/5 of my all purpose flour with white whole wheat for some added whole grain goodness. 
  3. For the rosemary pecan version, chop 75 g rosemary roasted pecans (recipe below) and add them into the dough. Wrap, chill for at least an hour before rolling out and cutting desired shapes.

How easy is that??!

Lemon pistachio sesame:

  1. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment blend 75 g confectioner's sugar with 227 g diced, room temperature, unsalted butter (notice a slight bump in the butter content here).
  2. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, the zest of two lemons plus 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice and blend in.
  3. Add 260 g all purpose flour (or sub 1/5 of that as white whole wheat flour) and 1/2 teaspoon salt and mix just until it comes together.

Blend in 50 g toasted sesame seeds and 50 g chopped raw pistachios. Wrap and chill for an hour or so before rolling out and cutting desired shapes.

I bake my shortbread at 325ºF (convection) for about 15 minutes or until gently browned (watch what's happening in there!!). Don't forget - it's your job to learn your own oven. 

Now how about those roasted rosemary pecans, you might ask? Here's the recipe (you'll have PLENTY of nuts for your shortbread dough - feel free to halve the recipe OR, even better, make the full batch and have plenty for apps and snacks):

  1.  Heat oven to 325º F.
  2. In a microwave safe bowl melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/3 cup chopped fresh rosemary (or 2 tablespoons crumbled dried), 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon paprika and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne.
  3. Place 4 cups nuts (walnuts, pecans or a mixture of the two) in a bowl and toss with the above mixture, coating the nuts evenly.
  4. Spread onto a 1/2 sheet pan and bake 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until browned and fragrant.
  5. Drain on paper towels, cool and serve at room temperature (or chop some up for your shortbread - yay!!).
  6. Store leftovers in an airtight container and enjoy for many days.
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Now get in that kitchen of yours and create your own version of delicious, crumbly, buttery shortbread. You can do it!