Halloween treats: Llama Llama Griffin and Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

I may have mentioned that my son is coo-coo over Llama Llama Red Pajama.  What choice did I have but to make him a Llama Llama costume for his very first Halloween (he was 2 weeks old last year and too much of a blob for costumes)?

Llama Llama props

To recreate Llama Llama, I sized down the pants and button down shirt from larger patterns I had in my project books for his red flannel pajamas.  I added a flannel stuffed tail to the back (no comments on the brown wad coming from his behind, it was part of the costume!).  The PJs ended up being a bit roomy on him but not big enough for him to trip.

The booties and hat I bought on Etsy and glued on some black and white felt to create the eyes.  When we added his Llama Llama doll, the transformation was complete.  The toughest part about this costume was getting Griffin to actually wear the hat, which he tore off his head as soon as he realized it was there.  The more distractions, the longer the hat stayed in place.

There he goes!  Catch that Llama!

Llama Llama Griffin

There goes the Llama
To show off celebrate, Griffin was invited to a pre-Halloween birthday party potluck for his playmate.

My contribution to the potluck were these darling pumpkin spice whoopie pies with maple cream cheese filling.  The whoopies were moist and soft, with just enough spice and not too much pumpkin to make them overbearing, and the filling was de-lish (as anything with cream cheese is).  Plus, bonus, they’re pretty easy to make, unlike finicky macarons.  The whoopies were a party favorite, not a crumb left on the plate.  Pumpkin Spice Whoopies

[Note: I also made chocolate whoopies with marshmallow cream, but they were too scary to eat.  Well, actually, they were too dry and crumbly, a recipe disaster that still happens occasionally.  Snapped a photo anyway.  Hee.] Scary spider

Loved the accolades received from my whoopies, but Griffin’s costume made an even bigger impression, as he walked around in his hat (for the 20 minutes it stayed on his head) looking up at each guest and holding out his prized Llama Llama doll to anybody that would catch his infectious smile.  Cuteness in spades.

I always used to dread Halloween.  I was never one to try to recreate a hokey costume into something slutty for the one day out of the year where it’s required to put it on display.  But now that kids are involved, I can get into the holiday spirit the way it was when I was a kid: a cute mom-made costume, candy and treats galore, trick or treating around the neighborhood, and celebrating the arrival of Fall.  Tonight- on with the tricking and the treating!  Happy Halloween!

Pumpkin Spice Whoopie Pies

Serves 20
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 25 minutes
Total time 45 minutes
Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

Whoopies

  • 1 1/2 cup Flour (All Purpose)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon Ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon Ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg (Fresh grated is best)
  • 1 cup Brown sugar (Firmly packed, dark or light is ok)
  • 1/2 cup Canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cup Pumpkin puree (Canned, but fresh is best if you have time. (Roast halved pumpkin with a little butter until soft, scrape, puree in blender))
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons Unsalted butter (Room temperature)

Whoopies (Optional)

  • 1/2 teaspoon Allspice

Filling

  • 1 1/2 cup Powdered Sugar
  • 4oz Cream cheese (Philadelphia, the brick kind)
  • 1 tablespoon Maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla extract ((or 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped))

Note

Adapted from Browned Eyed Baker

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use parchment or silpat lined baking pans or use a whoopie pie pan sprayed with cooking spray (Crate & Barrel has a good one, while you’re there, pick up a 1 tbs sized ice cream scoop)
2. In a large bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking powder and soda, and spices.
3. In your mixer, mix on low the brown sugar and oil, then add the puree, then the egg and vanilla until incorporated.
4. Add 1/2 of your flour mixture to the bowl and mix on low until just combined, then repeat with the second half. Don’t over mix.
5. Use a small 1 Tbs ice cream scoop and drop them onto your baking sheet or in your pan. Leave 1 ” in between for spread.
6. Bake 10-12 minutes until cookies just start to spring back when touched. This will give you a nice moist whoopie. Let cool in pan for 3 minutes, then remove and let cool on wire racks until room temp.
7. For the filling, cream the butter and the cream cheese together until there are no lumps. Add the powdered sugar, syrup, and vanilla and beat until smoothe, but do not overbeat.
8. Assemble cookies by piping or spooning a dollup of cream cheese filling inbetween two cookies.
9. Keep chilled until ready to use, then remove and let come to room temp for a few minutes before serving. They will keep in the fridge under plastic wrap for a few days.

 

 

 

The Mighty Quince: Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Poached Quince

In early Fall I say tearful goodbyes to summer stone fruit and fresh berries.  The only thing that will improve my somber mood in the produce section is the appearance of a fall favorite- the gorgeous, fragrant, beautiful quince.  (And literally every time I see one I think of the “Jeopardy” scene from White Man Can’t Jump- it’s a food that begins with the letter “Q.”).  The quince is related to the apple and pear, though you can’t eat it raw because it’s too fibrous and will give your mouth that terrible puckery feeling.  That means you have to cook it, and the longer you cook it the better, because the flesh turns from whitish yellow to beautiful deep claret red.

We invited friends over for a small dinner party on Sunday and you know how I like to roll for a dinner party.  On the menu, fresh Greek salad with a brick of French feta piled on top, Wagyu ribeyes with white asparagus and balsamic glazed pearl red onions, and of course, dessert featuring the gorgeous quince I picked up.

For dessert I was inspired by an old cookbook a friend gave to me:  The Wine Lover’s Dessert Cookbook, which had a recipe for buttermilk panna cotta.  I thought it would be perfect with quince.

I brought 4 elements together for this beautiful plated dessert (see links to all of these recipes above): the buttermilk panna cotta, poached spice quince, almond tuile cookies, and candied hazelnuts.

A good plated dessert should be sweet but not too sweet, with something a little savory to balance the sweetness, and something crunchy to balance the soft textures.  This dessert nailed it.

The spiced quince melted in your mouth and really stood out against the mellower creamy smoothe panna cotta, and the hazelnuts added the savory crunch.  I knew it was a hit because all of my guests cleaned their plates.  The panna cotta was rich but not so rich that you could only eat a couple of bites.  I have to say I was proud of this one and may even mention the idea to my restaurant’s pastry chef.  It was the perfect finish to a meal with great friends.

Recipes for panna cotta, spiced poached quince, and candied nuts follow.  For almond tuile cookie, recipe here.

Buttermilk panna cotta poached spiced quince

Buttermilk Panna Cotta

Serves 6
Prep time 3 hours
Cook time 10 minutes
Total time 3 hours, 10 minutes
Meal type Dessert
Region Italian

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Unflavored Gelatin
  • 1 cup Heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup Granulated sugar (or Evaporated Cane Juice)
  • 1 cup Buttermilk

Optional

  • 1/2 Vanilla bean (seeds scraped)

Note

Adapted from The Wine Lover's Dessert Cookbook

Directions

1. Prepare a muffin pan (I prefer the silicone type) or 6 small ramekins by putting vegetable oil on a paper towel and rubbing the muffin tin or ramekins with the oil.
2. Pour 1/4 cup cold water into a small bowl and sprinkle gelatin over water and let soften for 5 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, gently heat cream and sugar in a saucepan until it’s just warm, not hot or steaming. Scrape seeds from vanilla pod into cream and add the pod as well. Stir well to dissolve sugar.
4. Remove cream/sugar from heat once it’s just warm and stir in softened gelatin until it’s fully dissolved, about 1 minute. Stir in buttermilk.
5. Remove vanilla bean pod before pouring. Pour panna cotta mixture into muffin pan or ramekins. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour, then put into the refridgerator to set, about 3 hours (can be made up to 4 days in advance, just store in the muffin pan in your fridge).
6. Run knife around muffin pan or ramekin and invert carefully on plate.

Poached Spiced Quince

Prep time 10 minutes
Cook time 3 hours
Total time 3 hours, 10 minutes
Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 2 Quince
  • 1 1/2 cup Granulated sugar
  • 3 cups Water
  • 3-4 Star anise
  • 15 Black peppercorns
  • 2-3 Cinnamon sticks

Directions

1. Add sugar and water to heavy pot and bring to slow boil, stirring to dissolve sugar.
2. Peel quince, then cut 4 sides, cutting around the core like an apple (make sure you don’t get the hard fibrous core in your slices). Slice each of the 4 sides in 1/2" slices. Work quickly to avoid the quince turning brown.
3. Add quince slices to pot, then put spices in cheesecloth sachet, tied with twine, and add to pot. Simmer on very low heat, covered, for about 3 hours until quince turn deep amber red.
4. Remove quince from syrup and set aside for use in dessert. Strain spices and return red syrup to the pot. Create thicker syrup by reducing at a simmer, uncovered, until syrup thickens to desired consistency. Put in squeezy tube to use cooled syrup artfully on plate.

Candied Nuts

Prep time 20 minutes
Meal type Snack

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Nuts (Your choice: hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts all work)
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 1 cup Water
  • Oil (Peanut, canola, or vegetable, enough to make 4" deep in pot)

Directions

1. In small sauce pan, bring nuts, sugar, and water just to boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Simmer for about 15 minutes until sugar water thickens to a syrup consistency.
2. In a separate pan, heat enough oil to submerge nuts. Heat oil until thermometer reaches 325 degrees (if you don’t have a thermometer, add 1 nut to test temperature, if it makes bubbles when you add it to the oil, you’re good, if the oil is smoking, it’s too hot). Deep fry nuts until they turn a nice dark brown.
3. Strain nuts from oil and place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or silpat, keeping nuts separate so they don’t stick together as they cool. If you want them sweeter or saltier, toss with sugar or salt as desired. When they dry they’ll be nice and crunchy.

 

Baby Shower for H: Just the Accents

Enamel bottles

For a planaholic like me, is there anything more exciting than planning a baby shower?  I know not, especially when the guest of honor is a bestie who has been waiting 4 long years for her miracle daughter to arrive.  Unfortunately, I am not the only bestie in H’s arsenal, so I was not bestowed with a planning monopoly on this particular shower (I’m not good at sharing).  But I was in charge of a few key elements: center pieces, and of course, DESSERTS!

For the center pieces, I decided to go with the enamel bottle idea once again, this time choosing a color palette of coral, pink, and white.  I filled them with gerbera daisies and baby’s breath to keep them bright and cheery, like H herself.

Bottle center pieces

As for desserts, I ordered another lovely cake from Jill’s, and made a few different types of bite size treats.  The guest count for this shower was about 70, so I spent the better part of two days baking.  I made another batch of brownie pops, decorated with pink chocolate and sprinkles, gluten free mini donuts (because 1: gluten intolerant people deserve sweets too, and 2: the donut recipe from this cookbook is absolutely fabulous even though it’s gluten free) which I decorated with coral and pink icing with sprinkles to keep with the color palette, and raspberry macarons with raspberry jam frosting (a recipe I adapted from this cookbook).

The pops were a hit with the young guests, everybody loved how cute the donuts were, and as for the macarons, I overheard one guest saying, while eating my macaron and staring at it in wonder, “this is the best cookie I have ever eaten.”  *Sigh*  Compliments like that make me swoon.

Butterfly stuffed toy

Finally, the present.  Everybody knows the goal is to make the guest of honor cry and the rest of the ladies “ooh” and “ahh” over the cuteness of your particular present.  I sort of blew that opportunity by giving H the special basket full of my handmade creations before her actual shower.  I needed another spectacular present!  Scrambling, I made a butterfly stuffed toy for Addison in delightful pinks and greens to match her bedroom.  The stuffed toy wasn’t too complicated a project for the last minute and jingles as you shake it- babies love that.  You can find the instructions in Amy Butler’s project book, Little Stitches for Little Ones (it also includes a darling lady bug toy but I didn’t have time to make one of those too).

I also wanted to give Addison something personalized, so I worked with a wonderful design artist on Etsy to create a custom poster with Addison’s birth time, weight, length, and a few other unique details (blond hair, four years in the making, etc.) in beautiful baby colors.  Once we perfected the layout and colors, the artist sent me a high resolution image (all for $8), and I printed and framed it.  The present was a big hit with H- who cried when she looked at it (success!) and can’t wait to hang it in Addison’s room.

H opening her present

Everybody, especially H, had a lovely time at the shower and Addison behaved like a perfect angel as all the guests passed her around for a little cuddle time.  Though I didn’t have full rein to plan the entire shower (the other hosts did a spectacular job with food and games), it appeased my plan fetish for the time being, that is until H decides to adopt her next bundle of joy.  Then I might have to take over.

 

I’m no master chef but…. MasterChef Cake Decorating

Le Cordon Bleu has teamed up with the MasterChef television series to teach cooking classes to the public.  Non-professionals far and wide pay $99 a pop to learn a particular skill from an LCB instructor.  And when my baking instructor asked me to serve as her assistant for a cake decorating class, I was bewildered first, then flattered.  As I mentioned, cake decorating is not my forte, but I decided to spend a Saturday pretending it was anyway.

Student set up

Our class consisted of about 15 students and started off the same way as my baking class did, with a demo.  Chef Norris quickly demonstrated how to bake a perfect chiffon cake and how to whip up some icing.  Then she showed a few basic icing skills to get the students started.  We already baked cakes for the students to use to save them time, because the class was focused on decorating, not cake baking.  Each student was given a cake, an apron, side towels, and a recipe packet.  Tools were borrowed and shared.

At my table there was a darling mother/daughter team, two gentlemen (yes, real men decorate cakes) and another lady who wanted to decorate a cake for her handsome fellow.

I showed them a few basics, like how to hold the offset spatula while turning the cake stand, how to color icing, and how to make simple leaves and roses with icing.  Little did they know that just a week ago I learned the same tricks.  I think I fooled them.  Despite my stellar decorating tips, the students were most impressed when I taught them how to tape their cardboard cake circle to the cake carrying case so it didn’t roll around on the car ride home.  I definitely earned my keep with that one.

In the end, my students were happy with their cakes, and I got to call myself sous chef for a day.  Not a bad trade off.

 

A Little Chocolate Now and Then Doesn’t Hurt: Chocolate Truffles

Peanuts sage Charles Schulz once said, “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”  I quite agree.  I’ve never been a chocoholic, and when I was younger I was allergic to chocolate.  But even I must admit I get a hankering for dark, rich, velvety chocolate every so often, and when it strikes nothing else will satisfy.

This week we tackled chocolate truffles, and were privileged to learn from the best, chocolatier Susie Norris, author of Chocolate Bliss.  My vocabulary is now filled with terms such as “fat bloom,” “seizing,” “sugar bloom,” and “tempered.”

Chocolate?

Making chocolate is a messy business.  When we finished my chef’s coat was covered in unsightly and very embarrassing brown smears.  Chef Norris didn’t have a smudge on her.  She’s a true professional.

We made two types of chocolate truffles: milk chocolate with a hazelnut cream center, and dark chocolate with a flavored center of our choice; I chose Grand Marnier, Rum, and orange zest.  First we made then refrigerated the centers.  Then we carefully and precisely tempered our chocolate and dipped the centers in.  We placed the dipped truffles on parchment lined sheets, and you have to move them around to avoid a pool of chocolate from collecting on the bottom.  (That’s called a “foot,” and it’s supposedly bad).  After decorating, we were done.  Dark chocolate truffle recipe follows.

Dark and Milk Chocolate Truffles

Hand dipped, artisan chocolates from new chocolatier: me!  And, because I love hearing how people love my cooking, the reviews are in:

“…they are SO DELICIOUS !! They taste like some of the chocolates that I eat when I am in Paris!”  And:

“Well, you can’t go wrong with liqueur in chocolates (I assume that was Grand Marnier in the Dark Chocolate Truffle)—this one was my favorite.  However, I liked the creaminess of the Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Truffle; it hit a home run for me because it wasn’t too sweet and the hazelnut and milk chocolate married well together.  A nice glass of red wine would pair nicely with both.”

Dark and Milk Chocolate Truffles

Home run! Yay!

I’m very sad to say that baking class is now over. Tear!  I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, and even discovered that there may be a pastry chef in me yet, some day.  Next up: my last culinary class, Cuisine Across Cultures.  More adventures yet to come.

Dark Chocolate Truffles

Serves 30
Prep time 1 hour
Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

Filling

  • 8oz Dark chocolate (Use good quality, high cocoa content, I like Valrhona)
  • 4oz Heavy cream
  • 1oz Butter, unsalted
  • Flavoring (For Grand Marnier truffles, use 1/2 oz Grand Marnier, plus 1/2 oz Dark Rum, plus 1 tablespoon orange zest; for Chambord truffles, use 1/2 oz Chambord and a few drops of raspberry flavored extract)

Shell/Coating

  • 8oz Dark chocolate (Tempered, instructions below)

Note

Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu's recipe.

Note- do not drip any water into your chocolate or it will "seize" on you and won't be usable.  Be sure to keep all of your utensils, molds, etc. bone dry so no moisture contaminates your chocolate.

Directions

1.
Make the filling: chop chocolate and place in medium bowl. Scald cream in sauce pan. Pour hot cream over chocolate, add butter and whisk until melted. Add flavoring and stir until combined. Pour into an 8 oz container or into chocolate molds and chill overnight in fridge or for 30 minutes in freezer to set the filling.
2.
If you didn't use molds, scoop out bite size amounts of the filling and roll in your hands to make rounded centers. Or use a small chocolate cutter or cookie cutter to make shapes. Chill centers again.
3.
Temper chocolate for shell: Heat sauce pan of water until boiling, then turn off flame. Place 8 oz. of dark chocolate in a bowl that sits over the hot water (double boiler). Stir until chocolate melts. Using a candy thermometer, make sure the chocolate reaches exactly 115 degrees then remove from the double boiler. Place bowl over ice bath, stirring constantly until temperature drops to 82 degrees, exactly. Once the temperature drops the chocolate will be thicker. To make it easier to work with you can put it back over the hot water to raise the temperature again to no more than 90 degrees. You now have tempered chocolate. (This helps give it a nice shine and makes sure it will harden). Make sure you use the tempered chocolate immediately and constantly test the temperature to ensure it stays between 85-90 degrees. If you mess up any of these temperatures, don’t throw out the chocolate, just start over by heating it to exactly 115 degrees, then cool to 82 degrees, then back up to 85-90 degrees.
4. Dip your chilled centers into the tempered chocolate, making sure they're coated evenly. (They have chocolate dipper pokers especially for this, or a fondu poker works, or you can use your hands but it gets messy). Place them on a sheet lined with parchment paper and move them around so a pool of chocolate does not form at the base. Chill.
5.
Decorate by adding more melted tempered chocolate to a small ziploc and cut a very tiny hole to drizzle chocolate over your truffles. Or brush on gold or colored "luster dust" (available at professional baking supply shops).

Getting Artsy: Plated Desserts (and chocolate souffle recipe)

In fine dining, a beautiful plate comes second only to tasty food.  Talented chefs transform every plate into elaborate works of edible art.  When the patron is torn between devouring a plate because it looks and smells so delicious and regretting the first bite because it ruins the gorgeous aesthetic, the chef knows he’s done a good job.  The pastry chef is especially tasked with pushing the envelope to create stunning yet delectable desserts.  In Le Cordon Bleu’s bakeshop, we spent 2 days learning basic plating techniques.  Not nearly enough time but it’s a start.

Vanilla bean ice cream

Now I’m a bit clumsy, and a bit impatient, and really not so artistic (despite being left-handed).  So plating can be a challenge for a girl like me with two right thumbs.  But I gave it my best shot.  We made 5 plated desserts: vanilla ice cream in an edible bowl, creme brulee, cheesecake, chocolate souffle, and the classic Bananas Foster.  To make our plates pretty we also made raspberry coulis (raspberry sauce), chocolate sauce, creme anglaise (aka “the mother sauce” of the bakeshop), and tuile (pronounced “tweel”), which are fortune cookie like confections that can be molded into bowls and other fun shapes for garnish.

Bruleeing the brulee

The vanilla ice cream was a cinch, especially when you have a $6k commercial ice cream maker that goes from liquid to soft-serve in 6 minutes flat.  My edible tuile bowl was lovely and I’m starting to get the hang of writing in cursive in chocolate.  The artful “smear” of chocolate sauce didn’t fare too well (though I’ve never been a fan of the smear).

Plating cheesecake

The creme brulee (French for “burnt cream”) was easy.  All you really need to do is make a custard (we used fresh vanilla bean for extra fanciness), strain it, bake it, add a generous coat of sugar and set that baby aflame.

Next up, cheesecake.  Here’s where we were supposed to get imaginative.  I came up with a whimsical butterfly design, which I made by squirting the chocolate outline, then chilling until it hardened to form my border.  I filled that in with creme anglaise, and for accents I used cut-outs of kiwi and raspberry coulis.  I topped the cheesecake with a tuile twist.  Pretty, yes? It only took me two tries (my raspberry squirt out too fast the first time and made my butterfly bleed).

Plated cheesecake

The souffle was a first for me.  I always thought souffles were complicated, delicate, and required tiptoeing around the kitchen to avoid making the souffle fall.  I was delighted to be wrong about that one as they were surprisingly easy to make.  Mine puffed up just like it was supposed to.  For service we poured creme anglaise right in the middle.  Oh-my-stars was it good!  I think the souffle was a personal highlight of baking for me.  I can’t wait to impress my next dinner party guests!  Fun stuff.  You should definitely try it- you’ll be surprised how fun they are to make.  I’ll even give you the recipe I adapted from Le Cordon Bleu to get you started.  Chocolate Souffle with Creme Anglaise recipe, below.  [Note- your extra creme anglaise makes the most spectacular cream for your coffee.  A little trick I learned when we ran out of creamer yesterday].

Plating chocolate souffle

Finally, the Bananas Foster.  Fun to light liquour (rum and Grand Marnier) on fire and yell “Flambe!,” but kind of a hot mess on the plate. [See pics in gallery, above]. Our instructor said it’s supposed to look that way.  This wasn’t my favorite.  Way too sweet.  If I do it again I’d add orange segments to cut that sweetness.

Now that I have the basics, I need to get practicing.  I wish I paid more attention in grammar school when they taught cursive.

Chocolate Souffle with Creme Anglaise

Serves 4-6
Prep time 1 hour
Cook time 20 minutes
Total time 1 hour, 20 minutes
Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

Souffle base

  • 1 1/2oz Bread flour
  • 1 1/2oz Unsalted Butter
  • 8oz Whole milk
  • 2oz Granulated Sugar
  • 3 Egg yolks
  • 3oz Semi-sweet chocolate

Meringue

  • 5 Egg Whites
  • 1oz Granulated sugar

Creme Anglaise

  • 8oz Whole milk
  • 4oz Heavy cream
  • 3 Egg yolks
  • 3 1/2oz Granulated sugar
  • 1/2 Vanilla bean (seeds scraped, or 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract))

Note

Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu's recipe

Directions

1. First make the creme anglaise. Put the milk, cream, and about half of the sugar in a sauce pan. Split the vanilla bean in half. Using the back of your knife, scrape out the tiny brown seeds and add the seeds and the leftover bean to your pan. Heat the milk mixture until it scalds (tiny bubbles on the sides of the pan, not a rolling boil).
2. Whisk the yolks and the remaining sugar in a mixing bowl until yellow and frothy. Temper the yolks by pouring in a tiny bit of hot milk mixture to the yolk mixture while whisking, then add a tiny bit more, continue to whisk, keep doing this until you’ve added about half of the milk mixture. Tempering prevents you from cooking the egg yolks, that’s bad.
3. Pour the tempered yolk mixture back in the sauce pan with your milk mixture so now everything is together. Place back on low to medium heat and stir constantly. You’re creme anglaise is done when the mixture thickens to “nappe” consistency (it coats the back of a wooden spoon), about 5 minutes.
4. Place a clean bowl over some ice, and strain your creme anglaise through a fine mesh sieve into the clean bowl. The ice will help it cool.
5. Next make the souffle base. Melt butter in a sauce pan on medium heat and add the flour. Make a roux by stirring the flour until it forms a smoothe thick paste. Continue to stir for about 2 minutes over medium heat so the starchiness cooks out. You don’t want your roux to start browining. Remove roux from pan and set aside.
6. In the pan, add 2 oz sugar and the milk and cook over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and milk scalds (small bubbles form on sides of pan. Not a rolling boil). Remove from heat and add the roux back in. Stir with whisk until a thick creamy paste forms and there are no lumps. Taste to make sure it doesn’t taste starchy, like raw flour. If it does, cook on low heat until the starchiness goes away.
7. Make a French meringue. Add egg whites to mixing bowl. Mix on high for about 30 seconds to get the eggs started. Add 1 oz sugar to egg whites and mix until medium stiff peaks form. (Remove whisk attachments and invert. If the whites left on the end just start to crest over like a wave, you’re done. If they drip off, mix some more. If they stand up straight you’ve gone too far).
8. Carefully fold the meringue into the souffle base 1/3 at a time. Do not over mix and be gentle. Stop when egg whites are incorporated.
9. Prepare 6 3-inch ramekins by coating bottom and sides with butter. Then add a little sugar and roll around until sugar adheres to egg. Wipe tops and sides of ramekins clean.
10. Pour souffle batter into prepared ramekins almost to the top of the ramekins. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes until souffle is set in the center. Souffle will puff up a lot.
11. Remove from oven and dust with powdered sugar. Serve immediately. If you wait too long your souffle will deflate again, not pretty. When it’s in front of your guest, split the souffle in the middle with a spoon and pour in 1 oz of creme anglaise directly in the center.

Sacher Torte: Cakes Part 2

For our second day of cakes in baking class, we journeyed to Austria to pay homage to Austria’s most famous dessert, the Sacher Torte (pronounced “soccer”).  Legend has it the Sacher Torte was invented in 1832, when sixteen-year-old cooking apprentice Franz Sacher stepped in for an ill chef to prepare a special dessert for Prince Metternich and his stately guests.  The dessert became a hit in Vienna, and “The Original Sacher-Torte,” a carefully guarded recipe, has been tauted as the most famous cake in the world (though I admit I had never heard of such a cake until I made it the other day).

Le Cordon Bleu, obviously not privy to Vienna’s trade secret recipe, must have reverse-engineered the recipe provided to us.  And I will intern provide the adapted recipe to you, Sacher Torte recipe.  Caution: this isn’t your run of the mill cake.  It takes quite a bit of time to prepare, but is not difficult and the end result is pretty darned good.  The chocolate cake is surprisingly dense and light all at the same time, and the oozing apricot jam center complements the chocolate like honey to apples.  The double layer of chocolate frosting packs a rich punch.  The torte is traditionally served with whipped cream, though I sent it off to Big N’s work sans creme.

After making my torte in class, and having no special event on tap to tote my torte, I let Big N bring it with him to be devoured by his work colleagues.  As luck would have it, a fellow foodie blogger was able to sample my torte (my first review!).  Here’s what The Princess Gourmet had to say about yours truly (well, my torte, at least):

“A.M.A.Z.I.N.G! Light, not too dense. Subtle sweetness. Apricot jam in the middle added a nice layer of flavor. It’s supposed to be served with unsweetened whipped cream (didn’t miss it) but on its own, it’s wonderful. It’s one of the best sacher tortes I’ve ever had.”

Not too shabby, right?  Sacher it to me baby!  (How could I resist?!?)

Enjoy sacher torte

Next up: creme brulee and the elusive souffle.

Sacher Torte

Serves 8-10
Prep time 1 hour, 30 minutes
Cook time 30 minutes
Total time 2 hours
Meal type Dessert
Region European

Ingredients

Cake

  • 4.5oz Butter, unsalted
  • 5.75oz Sugar (Baker's (super fine) works best)
  • 4oz Egg yolks (about 4)
  • 6oz Egg whites (About 4)
  • 1 1/2oz Cake flour
  • 1 1/2oz Cocoa powder (good quality)
  • 1 3/4oz Almond meal (finely ground in food processor)
  • 4oz Apricot jam (no chunks)
  • 4oz Simple syrup ((instructions below))
  • to tasteVanilla or brandy (to flavor simple syrul)

Chocolate glaze

  • 8oz Semi-sweet chocolate
  • 6oz Butter, unsalted
  • 1 tablespoon Light corn syrup
  • Semi-sweet chocolate (Reserve some to write on the cake)

Note

Read through all of the instructions before getting started

Directions

1.
Cream the butter and just 3 3/4 oz. of the sugar in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Gradually add the egg yolks until incorporated. Place this mixture in a large mixing bowl and wash out the bowl to your stand mixer.
2.
In a separate bowl, sift all dry ingredients together. (The almond meal may not go through the sifter as it is thicker than flour, that’s ok, just dump the rest in).
3.
In your stand mixer, make a meringue by beating the egg whites until foamy on high speed with the whisk attachment. Add the remaining 2 ounces of sugar and continue to beat until medium stiff peaks form. (To test your peaks: take the whisk out with a little egg white stuck to it. Invert the whisk, and if the foam falls off completely it’s not stiff enough. If the foam crests like a wave you’re there. If the foam stands up straight, that’s stiff peaks and you’ve gove too far). Do not over beat.
4. Carefully fold the meringue into the creamed butter/sugar batter, one third at a time until just incorporated. Do not overwhip your egg whites or your cake will be too dense, save as much air in those egg whites as you can when folding. Then carefully fold in the sifted dry ingredients.
5.
Line an 8-inch cake pan with parchment paper. Add the batter, and bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees until set in the center (until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean), between 20-30 minutes (test it to be sure). Cool for 10 minutes, then invert onto cooling rack and remove torte from pan to finish cooling.
6.
When cooled, carefully slice the torte in half horizontally so you have 2 layers using a serrated knife. Make a simple syrup by combining 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water. Heat on stove until sugar is just dissolved. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or 1 tablespoon of brandy to the syrup for flavoring. Using a pastry brush, brush the simple syrup on the top and sides of each layer so it moistens the torte. Be generous with this. You want a lot of moisture on the torte.
7.
Using a spatula, spread the apricot jam thickly on the bottom layer. Put the second layer on top so you have a two layered torte.
8.
Next make the chocolate glaze. Combine the chocolate, butter, and corn syrup in a bowl. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water (double boiler) to melt these together, stirring frequently until melted.
9. Divide the chocolate glaze: put 1/3 of it in a separate bowl and set aside. Keep the remaining 2/3 in your original bowl and place this bowl over an ice bath (water and ice) to cool the glaze. Whisk it the whole time while cooling. If the chocolate freezes on the sides of the bowl, take out of the water bath, keep whisking to incorporate, and then put it back in the water bath to whisk some more. After about 3-5 minutes the chocolate will get nice and thick as it cools and will have the consistency of spreadable frosting.
10.
Place the torte on cardboard. Coat the entire torte with this frosting and make it smooth with your offset spatula. If you can't get it smooth enough, run your spatula under warm water to help you slightly melt the frosting and get it smoother. Chill for 10 minutes. Trim around the cardboard if necessary so it is the same size as the torte.
11.
Place the torte with the cardboard cut to fit on a wire rack that is sitting over a sheet tray that is covered in plastic wrap (to catch the chocolate you're about to pour). Reserve a small bit of the left over chocolate sauce (to write on your torte later). With the remaining reserved sauce sauce, pour it right over the center of the torte and let it drip down the sides. Try to coat the entire torte and get the sides smooth. If you run out of chocolate sauce before the entire torte is covered, pick up the plactic wrap where the sauce dripped on it and pour the sauce over the torte again. Let the chocolate set on the counter, do not refrigerate or you’ll lose all that cool shine on the chocolate.
12.
Optional: with the last bit of your reserved chocolate, place melted chocolate in a pastry bag and cut a small tip off it. Write “sacher” on the torte (traditional); or write whatever you want (modern). Serve the same day. Congratulations.

Beginner Cakes: Part 1

It’s clear that I’m no “Ace of Cakes.”  I have a hard time icing a cake without leaving a trail of visible crumbs in my frosting and I can’t pipe rosettes to save my life.  So when I heard we would spend a week in baking class on cakes, and would need to produce a celebration cake for the final, I wasn’t exactly doing cartwheels.  But I powered through and picked up some new cake skills here and there.

So far we’ve made three cakes: a yellow butter cake with royal icing, a devil’s food cake with chocolate mousse icing, and a Sacher torte.

Making the cake is the easy part.  Mix, pour, bake.  Decorating it takes patience and finesse and I’m admittedly lacking in those virtues.  The decoration on my yellow butter cake came out so so.  We had to write a message in chocolate on the cake and working with chocolate is messy business.  First, I made a cone out of parchment (“cornet” in French) and filled it with chocolate, cut the tip off, and wrote with the chocolate dripping through the bottom in a steady stream.  Of course my chocolate splattered out the wrong end and drenched my cake in a messy pool.  Not to worry, I popped it in the freezer, the chocolate hardened, and I chipped it off with the tip of my knife.  But writing in chocolate takes a steady hand, and I haven’t written in cursive since about the 4th grade.  Plus I’m left-handed so by definition my writing sucks.  The result: Bleh.  This cake went into the freezer.  I think it wants to be my son’s “smash cake” for his 1st birthday party.  What do you think?

Yellow butter cake finished

Cake No. 2 was the devil’s food with chocolate mousse icing.  I chose to do 4 delicious layers.  The mousse came out great, except I didn’t quite make enough of it.  You need extra frosting because the first layer should be the “crumb coat.”  If it gets crumby, no problem, because the second layer will be nice and smooth.  I didn’t have enough for the smooth layer.  Oh well.  I also didn’t practice hard enough with my flowers because they look dreadful.  I told my instructor I wasn’t going for “rosettes,” but more like avant-garde carnations.  I think she almost bought it.  This cake went into the freezer too (I’m nearly out of freezer space).  Cakes freeze well.  The cake told me it wants to be a mini-present for my nephew’s second birthday because he hasn’t seen that many cakes in his young life and won’t know the difference.

Devil's food cake decorated

Now the Sacher torte, that was a thing of beauty if I do say so myself.  I’ll explain what the heck a Sacher torte is in Part 2.

 

Pate a Choux : G-d Bless You!

Eclairs may just be the perfect French treat.  Crisp flaky pastry shell, sweet cream center, healthy dose of chocolate topping.  Not too sweet, not too filling, just the right amount of indulgence.  Even health fanatic Big N can’t resist the alluring eclair.

Baking an eclair is fairly simple, though a little time consuming.  Start to finish you’re investing about 3 hours, but when those 3 hours are up you’ll look at your 1/2 dozen eclairs and which you’d doubled the recipe.

Eclairs, cream puffs, profiteroles, and gougeres (cheesy puff balls) all start with a French basic, the Pâte à Choux (gesundheit), which roughly translates to “cabbage paste.”  I believe the French call it cabbage paste because cream puffs look like little cabbage rolls after they’re baked.  Don’t ask me why, I didn’t name it.  Funny name aside, pâte à choux is a fairly versatile dough to have in the arsenal and not that complicated to make (no rolling, turning, chilling, rolling, turning, chilling, like other French pastries).   Pâte à Choux recipe follows.

What you do with your pâte à choux is up to you.  (You like all this rhyming?)  Stuff it with Chantilly Cream and you have cream puffs.  Add strawberries (and basil?) or blueberries (and lemon zest?) and you have a more exciting puff.  Add pastry cream and loads of chocolate on top and you have an eclair.  Add hazulnut flavored pastry cream and some almonds and you have a Paris-Brest (created and named in honor of the famous bike race from Paris to Brest, France).  Add some gruyere to your dough and you have gougeres, which make a nice pre-dinner roll.  Lots of possibilities.  Pastry and Chantilly Cream recipe follows (for cream puffs and eclairs).

My eclairs were delectable and my cream puffs divine.  More butter straight to my thighs (only 3 more weeks of baking class, then back to the treadmill).  But don’t take my word for it.  When Big N took the rest of my cream puffs to work (we can’t eat all this sweet stuff or we’d go mad!), here’s what a lucky taster had to say:

“The blueberry pastry was fantastic!  This was as good or better than the best I’ve had in Europe or the best restaurants in the US.

It had a perfect texture, was not too sweet and very pleasureful to eat. Perfect treat!”

And he speaks French! High praise indeed.  Compliments make me beam. :-)

Eclairs cream puffs and espresso

Next up: Quiche! Blueberry pies, and lemon curd tarts! Oh my.

Pate a Choux: Eclair & Cream Puff Paste

Serves 12
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 1 hour
Total time 1 hours, 15 minutes
Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 6 oz Bread flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 4 oz Butter (Unsalted)
  • 8 oz Water
  • 10 oz Eggs ((about 5, but best to weigh out))

Directions

1. Combine water, butter, and salt in a sauce pan and bring to a rolling poil.
2. Remove from heat and add flour, all at once. Stir quickly until dough forms a ball in the bottom of the pan. You’re ready when the dough coats the bottom of the hot pan and starts to stick, about 2 minutes.
3.
Transfer the dough to a mixer with the paddle attachment. Mix on low (setting 2 on the Kitchenaid) until the steam stops rising and dough has cooled slightly. Turn mixer on medium (setting 4) and add eggs one at a time until each egg is mixed in.
4.
Mix until dough becomes a smooth paste and passes the “finger test.” Put a little dough between your thumb and forefinger and start to pull apart slowly. If your fingers can separate and the dough still remains together in a line, you’re ready and it’s elastic enough. If it splits apart before your fingers spread apart, keep mixing.
5.
Place dough into pastry bag and pipe in shapes: 3 inch long rods for eclairs (moving pastry tip in a circular motion to create a thicker rod, see photo), and 2 inch circles for cream puffs (moving pastry tip in rising "pinwheel" motion).
6. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, then lower the oven and bake at 375 until the puffs are well browned and crisp, close to 1 hour.
7. Fill with desired filling.

Pastry Cream: Eclair Filling

Serves 12
Prep time 10 minutes
Cook time 10 minutes
Total time 20 minutes
Meal type Dessert
Region French

Ingredients

  • 8 oz Sugar
  • 32 fl oz Milk (Whole)
  • Melting Chocolate (Use chocolate that hardens, like tempered or chocolate wafers)
  • 1/2 oz Vanilla extract (or 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped)
  • 2 1/2 oz Corn Starch
  • 2 oz Butter (Unsalted)
  • 4 Egg Yolks
  • 2 Eggs

Note

Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu's recipe

Directions

1. In large sauce pan, heat 4 oz (half) of the sugar and the milk until it scalds (small bubbles up sides of pan and a little foamy on top).
2. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and yolks, corn starch, and the rest of your sugar until it’s smooth.
3. Temper the hot mixture with the cold: add the hot milk liquid to the egg and corn starch mixture a small amount at a time so it doesn’t cook your eggs. When the mixture is warm enough you can add the rest.
4. Put the mixture back in your sauce pan and on medium heat, continue stirring until it thickens. Do not stop stirring or it will burn. After about 5 minutes the cream mixture will thicken and boil. When it looks thick enough, remove from heat.
5. Place in separate pan, cover with wax paper (so it doesn’t form a crust on top) and cool until ready to use.
6. To fill eclairs: cut out small round hole in bottom of eclair (save the piece you cut out). Put cooled pastry cream in a piping bag fitted with a medium round tip (Ateco # 804 or smaller). Put tip in hole you cut out and squeeze to fill eclair. Stick the piece you cut out back in the hole (the sticky cream will hold it in place).
7. Melt tempered chocolate or chocolate wafers over a double boiler until just melted (do not burn and be careful that your bowl and all utensils are dry because water makes chocolate "seize" and that's bad). Turn the filled eclair over and dip top in the melted chocolate. Let dry until the chocolate hardens.

Chantilly Cream: Cream Puff filling

Serves 12
Prep time 5 minutes
Meal type Dessert
Region French

Ingredients

  • 12 oz Heavy cream
  • 2 oz Powdered Sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract

Note

Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu's recipe

Directions

1. In an electric mixing bowl, combine all ingredients.
2. Using the whisk attachment, whisk on low, then gradually increase to high. Whisk about 2 minutes until stiff peaks form but do not over mix. (Stiff peaks: take your whisk attachment out and turn it upside down. If the cream left on the whisk falls over and looks like an ocean wave, you’re at medium peaks. If it stays in a little point like a little snow capped mountain, you’re there.) Chill until ready to use.
3. To fill cream puffs: take a serrated knife and slice off the top third of each cream puff (make sure you keep the pieces you sliced off together with their bottoms so you remember which top belongs to which bottom). Fill pastry bag with chantilly cream fitted with a star tip. Pipe cream in concentric circles until you have a nice mound of cream. Add berries or other flavorings if you wish. Put cream puff top back on. Dust each cream puff with powdered sugar.

Butter overload: Croissants and Danish

I may have mentioned that since becoming a culinary student, butter and cream have become my new best friends.  For my 6-week baking rotation, butter and I are now attached at the hip (literally, ha!).  The love affair continued last week with our latest patisserie adventure: the croissant and the danish.

Butter block

If you enjoy your weekly daily croissant with a double shot of espresso, you might want to hit the back button on your browser because my forthcoming description of how these delectable flaky puffs of dough are made may just ruin it for you, especially if you share any concerns about having working arteries by the time you’re 50.  If you’re like my husband and share his motto “everything in moderation, even moderation itself,” then read on fellow caution-to-the-winder.

Rolling croissants

So, croissants.  Those paper thin flakes of crescent shaped dough (hence the name) are created by layering dough with butter, hundreds of times.  We baking people call this a laminated dough.  How the layers are accomplished requires patience and a good rolling pin.  First you mix together your yeast dough mixture and then let it rise.  While your yeast is working, you take a pound of butter, yes a pound!, and flatten it out to make what the French call a beurrage, a butter block, then chill.

Next, roll your chilled dough into a rectangle, and drop your 1 pound beurrage in the middle.  Fold the top and bottom thirds over the butter to create your first few layers.  Chill.

Turning your block of dough lengthwise, roll out into another rectangle and fold in thirds.  Chill.  Do this 4 times.  Each time you fold, you create more and more layers of dough with a thin layer of butter in the middle of each layer.

Rolled croissants

When all your turns are complete, you roll out the dough in a rectangle, and cut it in long isosceles triangles.  Roll up your triangles and fold into crescent shapes.  Wanna get really crazy? Fill with chocolate (pain chocolat) or ham and cheese.

Next, place your rolled crescents in a proofer (warm moist environment to let the dough rise).  Brush the tops with an egg wash and bake.   The heat and the steam permeats all those little layers in the oven, creating a light flaky buttery piece of heaven.

Tres magnifique!

Croissants!

For our danishes, we made Blitz Puff Pastry, which is a faster version of your traditional puff pastry.  No yeast this time, but lots of lots of butter and lots of rolling, turns, and chilling.  We filled our danish with bear claw almond mixture, cream cheese, and fruit fillings, then practiced rolling in various shapes (bear claw, pin wheel, frames, etc.).

Danish prep

My croissants came out flaky but not as buttery as I would have liked.  My mistake was letting my dough get too warm while I was doing all that rolling.  The butter started to melt by the time I put my rolled dough in the proofer, which meant it melted out in the oven a little early.  But they puffed up nicely and were pretty flaky.  My danishes weren’t too shabby, though some of my shapes didn’t stick together and unravelled a little while rising in the oven.  All in all, not a bad first attempt.  Big N took the loot to work and my creations were gobbled up in the lunchroom in minutes.  Who wouldn’t go for free pastry?!?

No recipe this time, but if you have about 2 days to kill and a pound of butter to spare on your thighs, you can try croissants using this tutorial, which comes pretty close to what we did in class.

Croissants and danish