Sunday, December 26, 2010

Nectar of the Gods? I'm pretty sure it's gin

To all you gin aficionados out there, we share a special bond. There is nothing more appealing to me than a cocktail made with a good aromatic, dry gin. Bombay Sapphire is my go-to, but as of late, Hendricks has become my new favorite, although not always as readily available.

Now what better way to ring in the new year, than with a fantabulous gin cocktail? My friend David recently introduced me to one (or two, or three...). It's called a French 75, and it's so deliciously potent that it was named after a piece of WWI French artillery...

Wait! And just how much gin does this thing hold?!

Cheers to a Healthy and Happy 2011! 

French 75
Adapted from The Washington Post, August 12, 2009
  • 2 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. simple syrup
  • 1 oz. lemon juice
  • Brut Champagne or other dry sparkling wine
  • Lemon twist for garnish
Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add the gin, lemon juice and simple syrup. Shake vigorously for at least 30 seconds, then strain into a champagne flute. Top with the champagne as needed, and garnish with the twist of lemon peel.

NOTE: To make simple syrup, combine equal parts of sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a slow rolling boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes. Transfer to a heatproof container and let cool to room temperature. Cover tightly and refrigerate until chilled through; store indefinitely.

Friday, December 24, 2010

And a partridge in a pear tart...or something

Two blog posts in one day? And a holiday, even?! Yes, I'm making up for lost time.

I wanted to share a recipe for another amazing fruit tart. This one is made with pears and an almond cream filling called frangipane.

Frangipane is a staple in many French pastries, so of course, I had tons of practice making it in pastry school. Although this recipe and method may differ a bit from the one I was taught, it's just as tasty and pairs really well with the Anjou pears.

Wishing you a Happy Holiday, and hopes for a sweet 2011!

Pear and Almond Frangipane Tart
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours

For the Pâte Sablée dough:
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 9 tablespoon butter, very cold, cut into small pieces
  • 1 egg yolk

For the Poached Pears:
  • 2 ripe medium pears (I used Anjou)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

For the Frangipane filling:
  • 6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup ground blanched almonds
  • 2 teaspoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg white
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract

For the pears:
Combine the water, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon stick, vanilla, and salt in a saucepan large enough to hold all the pears and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, cut the pears in half, remove the seed core and fibrous cores at either end, then peel the pears.

Add the pear halves to the simmering syrup and reduce heat to low. Cover, and let pears poach for about 10 minutes, turning them halfway. The pears will become slightly translucent, very tender, and easily pierced with a knife or skewer.

Let the pears cool in the liquid until room temperature before using. Or, you can store them in their liquid in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

For the tart shell:
Put the flour, confectioner's sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add the pieces of cold butter and pulse until the butter is cut into pea-sized pieces. Add the egg yolk and combine in several pulses until the dough starts to turn from dry to clumpy. Do not let the dough form one giant ball or it will be be overworked - just keep checking after every pulse and when the dough pieces looks like they will stick when you press them together, stop.

Butter a 9-in tart tin with removable bottom. Turn the dough out into the tin and press into the bottom and up the sides with your fingers. You probably will not need all the dough - save the extra for patching the shell after you bake it. Do not press the dough too hard or it will become tough - just enough for it to form to the tin.

Freeze the tart shell for at least 30 minutes. When you are ready to bake it, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

To partially bake the tart shell, take a piece of foil and butter the shiny side, then press the buttered side tightly to the shell. You do not need pie weights. Place the tart shell on a baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes, until the shell is dry and lightly colored. If any places have cracked, repair with the extra dough. Let cool on a rack until room temperature.

For the frangipane:
Combine the butter and sugar in the food processor and combine until smooth. Add the ground almonds and blend together. Add the flour and cornstarch, and then the egg and egg white. Process the mixture until it is very smooth. Add in the vanilla and almond extracts just to blend. The frangipane can be used immediately or you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. If it becomes too firm in the fridge, let it sit at room temperature for a while to soften before using.

To finish the tart:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the frangipane evenly into the cooled tart shell (It should be liquid enough to smooth out on its own so you don't need to work to much on it).

Take the poached pears out of their liquid and drain them on paper towels. You don't want too much excess liquid or they will make the frangipane soggy. Cut each pear into 3/8 inch thick slices.

Slide the pear half onto the frangipane carefully - you can move the pear after you place it, but not much. Fan the pear slices out into a concentric circle.

Place the tart on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 45-50 minutes, until the frangipane is puffed, golden brown, and firm to the touch. Cool the tart on a wire rack.

Before serving, you can brush the pears with some warmed apple jelly to glaze, or dust confectioner's sugar over the tart. Makes one 9-inch tart.

I'm not a pastry school dropout

My pastry adventure is over. Okay, not quite, but my French Pastry School days are over as I officially became a graduate on December 17th. It was such a fantastic experience (minus a few mental breakdown days initially), and I also met some really lovely pastry peeps (both chefs and classmates).

Photo courtesy of classmate Jack Lee. I hope to have more posted soon.

All of the students in my program were in charge of creating pastries for the buffet at the graduation reception. My stream was responsible for creating the breads and breakfast pastries.

I have to admit, that now that I'm finished, I'm experiencing a bit of the post-graduate blues. My classmate Laura, coined it "post pastry depression" very clever. Don't get me wrong, I am really relieved that it's all over — no more exams, grueling 55 hour school/work weeks, or ill-fitting chef's uniforms. I can finally focus on other things, like my much neglected blog (ahem). I'm just not sure of what's next.

My family and friends are encouraging me to start a little side business, operating out of a shared kitchen. I'd like to focus on tarts and petit fours, and I have some foundation recipes, but need to tweak them (test kitchen style!). I have so many ideas, but sometimes just as many self-doubt days, so we'll see. It would be a total trial by fire, but I've continued working as a graphic artist, so I always have that to fall back on. The safer route would be for me to find part-time work, preferably at a bakery to continue to develop my skills.

In the meantime, I think the holidays make a pretty fine diversion, don't you agree?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Apple Cranberry Galettes — Veganized

To all my little vegan friends, here's a lovely dessert idea that's perfect for Thanksgiving. I made the original non-vegan version, then made a second minus the dairy. Both were fantastic. It was super easy to "veganize" the recipe by replacing butter with Earth Balance, and by using soy milk as an egg wash.

BTW, boo to turkey and hooray to vegetable vindaloo! This Thanksgiving I will be enjoying a nice Indian dinner at Hema's Kitchen with my good friend, sparkling Shiraz. Gobble, gobble.

Apple Cranberry Galettes — Veganized
Adapted from Pâtisserie Natalie, original non-vegan recipe here

For the dough:
  • 1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1-1/4 sticks) chilled Earth Balance vegan butter + 2 tablespoons
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) ice water
  • soy milk (to be used as an egg wash)

For the filling:
  • 4 large Granny Smith apples
  • 2/3 cup fresh cranberries
  • 5 tablespoons Earth Balance vegan butter
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger

Mix flour, sugar, and salt in food processor. Add 12 tablespoons of butter; pulse until coarse meal forms. Add 2 tablespoons ice water; pulse until moist clumps form, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk and wrap in plastic. Chill 2 hours.

While you're chilling the dough, you might want to prepare the filling (procedure below).

Preheat oven to 375º F. Roll out dough on a floured work surface 1/2" thick. Cut into 8" diameter circles and place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.

Place about 1/3 of a cup of the filling in the center of the circle and fold up edges of the dough in one direction. Place a 1/2 tablespoon of butter on the filling.

Using a pastry brush, paint the sides of the galette with a small amount of soy milk. Place on the parchment-lined sheet pan and bake for 15 minutes depending on your oven.

For the filling:
Peel and cut apples into very thin slices, about 1/4" thick, then set aside.

In a large saucepan, turn on medium heat and melt butter. While the butter is melting, combine lemon juice, sugar, and spices in a small bowl. Pour into the saucepan.

Cook the cranberries in the pan first, without the apples. Wait until they start to make "popping" sounds, then remove from the pan, leaving the juice in the pan.

Cook apples just until they are easily sliced with a little pressure from a wooden spoon. Remove from heat and toss the cranberries in. Stir the fruits in with the sauce until incorporated. Makes about (4) 8-inch galettes.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

6 weeks and counting...

The specialty and wedding cake section of the program, as well as the exam, has thankfully come to an end. And boy, was this exam ever so challenging — I just barely finished everything that was required. We had to produce three cakes: an entremet, a pithivier, a torted buttercream cake complete with fancy-shmancy piping techniques, and a bouquet of gum paste flowers.

We did learn some pretty interesting cake decorating techniques, but quite honestly, it was my least enjoyed portion of the pastry program. Yep, I'm a simple girl, who likes her pastries gum paste and fondant-free.

Made of sugar, so it's technically edible

3-tiered fondant cake with stringwork and borders

So, I'm headed into my last quarter of the program with just 6 weeks left! This week starts off with breads, then we will move on to breakfast pastries, and finally, petit fours. Apparently, they have saved the best for last.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tarte aux pommes

Let's hear it for autumn and apples. Never mind the fact that Chicago is experiencing fake summer (it's 85º today), the elusive Honeycrisp apple is in season and I have a hankering for pie... or should I say, a hankering for pie's more sophisticated cousin, the tart. I completed tarts class a few weeks ago, and absolutely loved it — these too-gorgeous-to-eat pastries are amazingly simple to make.

Take for instance, the tarte aux pommes (apple tart) — it's a staple dessert in France and consists of a sweet dough crust (Patê sucrée), an apple compote filling, and topped with delicately sliced apples. Nope, this ain't your mama's apple pie. The recipe I used was from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Hey, did you know that she attended Le Cordon Bleu at the tender age of 37? ;) How inspiring!

After much apprehension, I finally have my first stagiaire scheduled. It will be at Rarebird Preserves, — a fellow FPS graduate and culinary entrepreneur who just started selling her jams to Whole Foods. I am so looking forward to it!

Tarte aux pommes
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

  • 9 or 10-inch sweet dough pastry shell (recipe here:
  • 4 pounds cooking apples (your preference, I used Honeycrisp and Granny Smith)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup apricot jam/preserves
  • 1/3 cup Calvados, rum or cognac (or 1 tablespoon vanilla)
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar for topping
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375º F. Quarter, core, and peel the apples. Cut enough to make 3 cups into 1/8-inch lengthwise slices and toss them in a bowl with the lemon juice and sugar. Reserve them for the top of the tart.

Cut the rest of the apples into rough slices. You should have about 8 cups. Place in a pan and cook over low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender.

Beat in apricot jam, Calvados, sugar, butter, and cinnamon. Raise heat and boil, stirring, until applesauce is thick enough to hold in a mass in the spoon.

Spread the applesauce in the pastry shell. Cover with a neat, closely overlapping layer of sliced apples arranged in concentric circles.

Bake in upper third of preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until the apples have browned lightly and are tender. Slide the tart onto a serving dish and paint over it with a light coating of apricot glaze (see below for recipe). Serve warm with whipping cream or a scoop of ice cream.

Apricot Glaze
  • 1/2 cup apricot preserves, forced through a sieve
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Stir the strained apricot preserves and sugar over moderately high heat until thick enough to coat the spoon with a light film, and the last drops are sticky as they fall from the spoon (225-228º F) on a candy thermometer). Do not boil past this point or the glaze will become brittle as it cools.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Happy Birthday, Kbird

I'm preparing for my second quarter exams, which takes place this week. Chocolate candies, chocolate showpiece, sugar showpiece and tarts (my fave ♥) will all be covered. If my last round of exams is any indication of what's to come, I will be far too busy to bake anything for Kevin, who celebrates his birthday on Tuesday. So, today seemed like the more reasonable day to make him his most desired dessert.

And the birthday boy's dessert of choice... is none other than... poached pears?!

Wah, wah, waaah...

It's not even close to being one of my favorites, but I'll admit that it does make a lovely fall dessert, especially since Bosc pears are in season. The recipe is simple, yet you can make it versatile by using different spice combinations and various wines or juices. And I suppose it is a refreshing change from the Dole fruit cocktail pears of my youth, which I still enjoy eating, to this day.

Poached Pears
  • 1-1/2 cups red wine (I used Port)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange peel
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped; reserve pod
  • 4 firm but ripe Bosc pears

Peel and slice pears in half (leaving stems intact), and core out centers.

In a heavy large saucepan, combine all the liquid ingredients with the sugar, cardamon, cinnamon, orange peel, vanilla beans and pod. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to simmer.

Add the pears and return mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat and simmer slowly until pears are tender when pierced with knife. Remove from heat and let pears cool in liquid (may prepare 1 day in advance).

Before serving:
Strain the spices, and cook the liquid over medium-high heat until it's reduced to about half. Rewarm pears and serve with vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Hello, lover.

Pear-caramel and pistachio-cream filled chocolates made by yours truly.

My last two weeks were spent producing chocolate candies (by hand!). It was one of the messier classes in the program... for those two weeks, doing laundry seemed to be a daily affair.

And although I won't be a chocolatier anytime soon, I did learn some cool methods — chocolate tempering (by hand!), enrobing, hand-dipping and casting chocolate in molds for filled candies.

Hey, and get this — I'm currently in my 10th week of school with just 14 more weeks to go!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

First quarter exams are overrr

I'm happy to report that I survived my first quarter exams, which consisted of a written and of course, a practical portion.

For the practical, we were given three days to produce the following: chocolate caramels, pâte de fruit, marshmallows, crème brûlée with chocolate cream and hazelnut biscotti, pastilles, soufflés, crêpes, and an ice cream vacherin — not so bad, eh? One partner and I were required to make these items individually, while sharing only ONE induction cooktop and ONE KitchenAid mixer.

Although it was challenging, my partner and I still managed to complete everything. I think I did pretty well overall, despite my slightly overcooked crème brûlée and super soft caramels.

It was definitely a grueling eighteen hours, but I swear my whisking arm has never looked better.

Chocolate Espresso Pots de Crème
Adapted from Gourmet, February 2004

  • 6 oz. fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), finely chopped 
  • 1-1/3 cups heavy cream 
  • 2/3 cup whole milk 
  • 1-1/2 to 2 teaspoons instant-espresso powder 
  • 6 large egg yolks 
  • 2 tablespoons sugar 

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 300°F.

Put chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring cream, milk, espresso powder (to taste), and a pinch of salt just to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring until espresso powder is dissolved, then pour over chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

Whisk together yolks, sugar, and a pinch of salt in another bowl, then add warm chocolate mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a 1-quart glass measure and cool completely, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.

Line bottom of a baking pan (large enough to hold ramekins) with a folded kitchen towel and arrange ramekins on towel. Poke several holes in a large sheet of foil with a skewer. Divide custard among ramekins, then bake custards in a hot water bath, pan covered tightly with foil, until custards are set around edges but still slightly wobbly in centers, 30 to 35 minutes.

Transfer ramekins to a rack to cool completely, uncovered, about 1 hour. (Custards will set as they cool.) Chill, covered, until cold, at least 3 hours. Makes 8 servings.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Jams and jellies — get in my belly!

Heyyy, got toast?

The plated dessert section of the pastry program is over, and my last two days of class were spent making jam — apricot-almond and strawberry, to be specific.

Jellies, jams and preserves... so what's the difference, you ask? Jellies are made from fruit juice, jams from crushed fruit plus fruit juice, and preserves are made from whole fruit plus fruit juice. There are only a few key items that are required to make a successful jelly, jam, or preserve — good fruit, sugar, acid, pectin and sterile equipment. I don't want to bore you with all the details, so you can read more about it here:

School policy doesn't allow me to share the exact recipes that were made in class (intellectual property and all), but David Lebovitz, whom I love, has a fantastic (and simple) recipe for apricot jam.

Next week is our first quarter exams (dread...dread...dread...), which will cover everything I've learned these past six weeks — plated desserts, ice creams and sorbets, sugar confections, and jellies, jams and preserves.

Then it's on to chocolate candies...muahaha.

Apricot Jam
Adapted from David Lebovitz

  • 2 pounds (1 kg) fresh apricots
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) water
  • 6 cups (1 kg) sugar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon kirsch (optional)

Cut the apricots in half and extract the pits. If you wish, crack a few open and put a kernel in each jam jar you plan to fill.

Place the apricots in a very large stockpot, and add the water. Cover the pot and cook, stirring frequently, until the apricots are tender and cooked through.

Put a small plate in the freezer.

Add the sugar to the apricots and cook, uncovered, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface. As the mixture thickens and reduces, stir frequently to make sure the jam isn't burning on the bottom.

When the jam looks thick and is looks slightly-jelled, turn off the heat and put a small amount of jam on the chilled plate. Put back in the freezer for a few minutes, then do the nudge test: If the jam mounds and wrinkles, it's done. If not, continue to cook, then re-test the jam until it reaches that consistency.

(You can use a candy thermometer if you wish. The finished jam will be about 220ºF, 104ºC.)

Once done, stir in the lemon juice and kirsch, if using, and ladle the jam into clean jars. Cover tightly and let cool to room temperature. Once cool, refrigerate until ready to use.

Storage: I find this jam will keep up to one year if refrigerated. If you wish to can it for long-term preservation, you can refer to the USDA Canning Guidelines for techniques.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sugar candy week recap

Sugar candy week was a busy one — just take a peek at some of the awesome confections we had the opportunity to make...

Meyer lemon lollipops

Cassis-pear patê de fruit

We usually complete a minimum of three recipes per class, so it can get a bit bananas in the kitchen. Believe it or not, last week we also made: vanilla marshmallows, strawberry marshmallows, nougat, chocolate nougat, caramels (plain, fleur de sel with walnuts, and the chocolate variety), pastilles, orange zest hard candy, French pralines, raspberry gummies, sour cherry pâte de fruit, and passion-apricot pâte de fruit.

The passion-apricot pâte de fruit is by far my favorite from the group. Pâte de fruit is France's answer to Chuckle candy — only softer, more deluxe, and made with real fruit.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

School, summer, and sangria

Hi...remember me? Yes, I know I've been neglecting my blog lately, but ever since school started I've been struggling to adjust to my new schedule. I've continued working on a part-time basis while attending school five days a week. I have to say, school is a bit intense, and we cover quite a bit of material within the six hours that I'm in class. So far, we've gone over only the basics - preparing pastry creams, butter creams, meringue, pâte à choux and sweet dough.

Tomorrow we begin learning how to create sugar candies and then we'll move on to ice cream. I'm hoping to have some new recipes to post soon. In the meantime, I thought I'd share a non-pastry recipe since it was such a big hit with my friends.

There is something about summer nights that makes me want to sip sangria by the gallon, and last night was certainly no exception. The weather was perfect — clear skies, warm temps minus the gross mugginess that is so typical of Chicago in July. My friends and I decided to gather together on the rooftop of my building to savor the summer air, and enjoy a little sake sangria. This was the first time I had ever made sangria sans vin, and it was AMAZING.

You've been warned: this potent cocktail is
cleverly disguised as a subdued, fruity drink.

 Sake Sangria
  • 4 cups sake
  • 1/2 cup Grand Marnier
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 - 3 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
  • 2 cups chopped fresh fruit, such as strawberries, cantaloupe, kiwi or watermelon
  • soda water
In a bowl, combine the sake, orange juice, Grand Marnier, and sugar and stir until sugar is totally dissolved. Pour the mixture into a large pitcher, add the fruit chunks, cover, refrigerate, and allow to macerate for 4 to 6 hours.

To serve, fill large wineglasses with ice, add enough of the mixture to fill about 3/4 full, splash with soda water and serve with fruit.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Last hurrah 3-day weekend

Well, this is my last day before I officially enter into the grueling and inspiring world of French pastry. School begins early tomorrow morning and I am completely thrilled and nervous at the same time.

My first week will entail some not-so-sexy sanitation classes, which my friends say I should actually teach since I'm such a germaphobe. I'm required to obtain a sanitation certificate before I can even begin to work in the kitchen. I will also receive my uniforms complete with cute little hat (to my dismay, it's not a full-fledged chef's toque), books and a professional pastry tool kit.

To celebrate this momentous occasion, I thought it would be fitting to make a traditional French pastry - brilliant, eh?

Okay, so snapping photos of ice cream on a
90-degree day can be a bit challenging.

Profiteroles are amazing little pastries made from dough called pâte à choux that is cooked on the stove top prior to baking. This method helps to achieve a firm, crisp pastry with a hollow center that can be filled with pastry cream, whipped cream or ice cream.

The profiteroles I had sampled in the past were served sandwiched around vanilla ice cream and topped with warm chocolate sauce. I decided to make mine with a little salted caramel ice cream, and I omitted the chocolate sauce. I found these recipes from two different sources, so I've posted them individually below.

Salted Caramel Ice Cream
Adapted from Gourmet, August 2009
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar, divided
  • 2-1/4 cups heavy cream, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt such as Maldon
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 large eggs
Heat 1 cup sugar in a dry 10-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring with a fork to heat sugar evenly, until it starts to melt, then stop stirring and cook, swirling skillet occasionally so sugar melts evenly, until it is dark amber.

Add 1-1/4 cups cream (mixture will spatter) and cook, stirring, until all of caramel has dissolved. Transfer to a bowl and stir in sea salt and vanilla. Cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, bring milk, remaining cup cream, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar just to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally.

Lightly whisk eggs in a medium bowl, then add half of hot milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Pour back into saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until custard coats back of spoon and registers 170°F on an instant-read thermometer (do not let boil). Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl, then stir in cooled caramel.

Chill custard, stirring occasionally, until very cold, 3 to 6 hours. Freeze custard in ice cream maker (it will still be quite soft), then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to firm up. Makes approximately 1 quart.

Adapted from Ina Garten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 extra-large eggs
Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Heat the milk, butter, and salt over medium heat until scalded. When the butter is melted, add the flour all at once and beat it with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together and forms a dough. Cook, stirring constantly, over low heat for 2 minutes. The flour will begin to coat the bottom of the pan. Dump the hot mixture into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the eggs and pulse until the eggs are incorporated into the dough and the mixture is thick.

Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a large plain round tip. Pipe in mounds 1-1/2 inches wide and 1-inch high onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You should have about 18 puffs. With a wet finger, lightly press down the swirl at the top of each puff. (You can also use 2 spoons to scoop out the mixture and shape the puffs with damp fingers.) Bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned, then turn off the oven and allow them to sit for another 10 minutes, until they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Make a small slit in the side of each puff to allow the steam to escape. Set aside to cool.

For serving, cut each profiterole in half crosswise, fill with a small scoop of ice cream and replace the top. Yields approximately 6 servings.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lavender and Lemon Cookies it not the Superman of herbs? I love it in my warm bath, the sachets that fill my chest of drawers and to my surprise, in my baked goods.

I had been meaning to bake with lavender for sometime, and was so excited to finally try out this recipe. These buttery, delicate cookies were the perfect pastry to make for my friend's baby shower. They weren't overly sweet, and the lavender had a subtle, earthy flavor which complemented the tartness of the lemon.

I'll admit that the first batch came out with some less than desirable dark edges, so I adjusted the temperature to 350º instead of the 375º that's listed in the recipe. Thanks to my craftiness and/or desperation, I managed to salvage them by using a cookie cutter to carefully cut flower shapes out of the already baked cookies. The shapes worked out so well that I decided to do the same with the remaining batches.

The cookie dough can be made in advance and stored in the freezer until ready to bake. There's also no need to pull out the KitchenAid mixer, since the entire recipe can be completed by using only a food processor. It's a lazy baker's dream!

Lavender and Lemon Cookies
Adapted from Baking Illustrated via When Harry met Salad

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest + 2 tablespoons juice from 1-2 lemons
  • 2 teaspoons dried lavender
  • 1-3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a food processor, process the sugar, lemon zest and lavender until the sugar looks damp and the zest and lavender are fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt, then add to the sugar mixture; pulse to combine, about (10) 1-second pulses.

Scatter the butter pieces over and pulse until the mixture resembles fine cornmeal, about (15) 1-second pulses. In a measuring cup, beat together the lemon juice, egg yolk and vanilla. With the machine running, add the juice mixture in a slow stream (should take about 10 seconds) and continue processing until the dough forms into a ball, 10 to 15 seconds longer.

Turn the dough and any dry bits onto a clean work surface and gently gather into a ball. Working quickly, roll the dough into a cylinder about 12" long and 1-1/2" in diameter. Center the dough on a piece of parchment or plastic wrap and wrap tightly, twisting the ends together to seal. Chill the dough until firm and cold, about 45 minutes in the freezer or 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or spray them with nonstick cooking spray.

Remove the dough log from its wrapper and use a sharp knife to slice the dough into 3/8" thick rounds. Place the rounds on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 1" apart. Bake until the centers of the cookies just begin to color and the edges are golden brown, about 10-12 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through the baking time. Cool on sheets about 5 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes approximately 4 dozen.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Baileys Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies

My sister Heather, who works as a reporter for NBC in Buffalo, NY, is in town visiting with her boyfriend this week. Despite our nine year age difference (I surpass her in age, not necessarily in maturity), we are quite close and see each other at least twice a year.

Her "welcome home" consisted of me baking one of her absolute faves - chocolate chip cookies.

They're not your traditional chocolate chip cookies, mind you; these suckers are enhanced with Baileys Mint Chocolate Irish Cream. I had been looking to get rid of the numerous bottles I had stockpiled during my at-home solo karaoke sessions this past winter (embarrassing, I know), when I stumbled upon this recipe.

What also makes these cookies different is that the recipe uses cake flour, not all-purpose. This results in a puffier, more tender cookie that is slightly paler in color. And I hardly need to mention that they are so much more delicious!

Baileys Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from RecipeZaar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup Baileys Mint Chocolate Irish Cream
  • 2-1/4 cups cake flour (sift before measuring)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pkg. (6 oz.) bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375º F.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars until smooth. Add egg, vanilla and Baileys; blend well. Combine flour, baking soda and salt; add to mixture a little at a time, until thoroughly blended. Fold in chocolate chips and walnuts.

Drop by the spoonful onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The trifle in all its glory

Ahhh, the's synonymous with summertime parties and backyard BBQ's. Typically composed of layered fruit, cream/custard and cake, this dessert is so lovely it MUST be displayed in a super regal glass bowl.

My friend Sultan (a beautiful mother-to-be!), and her husband are hosting a BBQ this evening, so I thought I would re-work a recipe that I had posted previously into a trifle.

If you're pressed for time you can use store-bought cake (gasp!) or lady fingers. Before serving, be sure to place the trifle in the refrigerator for a few hours to allow the individual flavors to meld.

Mascarpone and Sherried Berry Trifle

For cake:
  • 2 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk 
For berries:
  • 1/2 cup Fino Sherry [I replaced it with Vin Santo, an Italian dessert wine]
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 cups mixed berries, cut if large 
 For cream:
  •  8 ounces mascarpone (1 cup)
  • 1 cup chilled heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Make cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan (2 inches deep). Line bottom with a round of parchment paper, then butter parchment.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. With mixer at low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing after each addition until just combined.

Spread batter in cake pan, smoothing top. Rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles.

Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Discard paper and re-invert cake onto rack to cool completely.

Macerate berries:
Bring wine and sugar to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Put berries in a bowl and pour hot syrup over them, gently tossing to coat. Let stand 15 minutes.

Make cream and assemble trifle:
Beat mascarpone and cream with sugar in a large bowl using cleaned beaters until mixture just holds stiff peaks.

To assemble the trifle, spoon a layer of the mascarpone cream into a large glass bowl. Add a layer of cake, breaking the slices into pieces that fit. Then soak the cake with a layer of berries and their juices. Keep going to make 3 or 4 more layers, depending on the size of the bowl, finishing with a layer of mascarpone cream and top with a few more berries. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Raspberry Scones with Lemon Glaze

For months, I have been listening to my friend Analia complain about how a certain Seattle-based coffee retailer no longer carries her beloved raspberry scones.

So I finally made her a batch to shut her up.

I had always thought of scones to be a British pastry, but Analia said that they are quite popular in Argentina (where she's originally from) and are commonly served with tea, mate, or a side of beef...jajaja.

Scones are incredibly easy to make. This particular recipe is great because the dough requires very little sugar, as most of the sweetness comes from the lemon glaze. If you don't have a pastry blender, use the pulse mode of your food processor to incorporate the cold butter into the flour.

The original Tyler Florence recipe actually calls for blueberries which I replaced with the raspberries. I found the result to be just as tasty, and my friend Analia is a little more pleasant to be around.

Raspberry Scones with Lemon Glaze
Adapted from Tyler Florence, Food Network

For scones:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut in chunks
  • 1 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing the scones
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries
For lemon glaze:
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1 lemon, zest finely grated
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter 

Make the scones:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Sift together the dry ingredients; the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Using 2 forks or a pastry blender, cut in the butter to coat the pieces with the flour. The mixture should look like coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center and pour in the heavy cream. Fold everything together just to incorporate; do not overwork the dough. Fold the raspberries into the batter.

Press the dough out on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle about 12 by 3 by 1-1/4 inches. Cut the rectangle in 1/2 then cut the pieces in 1/2 again, giving you 4 (3-inch) squares. Cut the squares in 1/2 on a diagonal to give you the classic triangle shape. Place the scones on an ungreased cookie sheet and brush the tops with a little heavy cream. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until beautiful and brown. Let the scones cool a bit before you apply the glaze.

Make the glaze:
Technically you should make this simple lemon glaze in a double boiler (i.e. over a pot of simmering water with a heatproof bowl set on top) but it's even simpler to zap it in the microwave. Mix the lemon juice and confectioners' sugar together in a microwave-safe bowl. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the lemon zest and butter. Nuke it for 30 seconds on high. Whisk the glaze to smooth out any lumps, then drizzle the glaze over the top of the scones. Let it set a minute before serving. Yields 8 scones.

Friday, June 4, 2010

I hereby declare it's gelato season

Summer. Now that's what I'm talking about...warmer temps, longer days and of course, gelato.

So the official start of summer doesn't begin until June 21...ah, formalities. Considering Chicago only has three real full months of warm weather, I must get a jump on gelato season now.

Unlike most gelato recipes, which are egg yolk based, this one uses corn starch as a thickening agent. The result is a much lighter gelato ("lighter" meaning calorie content, not flavor or richness).

For you frozen dessert devotees, I would recommend purchasing an ice cream maker since there really is nothing like homemade ice cream. I own a Cuisinart brand (automatic, not the old school hand-crank variety) which I bought for around $60. Oh, and as for recipe books, The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz has some really unique and interesting frozen desserts.

Mocha Chip Gelato
Adapted from Gourmet, January 2001

  • 1-3/4 cups 2% milk
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed)
  • 1 tablespoon instant-coffee granules
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 oz. fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sliced almonds, toasted and cooled
  • pinch of salt

In a small bowl, stir together 1/4 cup milk and cornstarch.

Whisk together sugar, cocoa, and remaining 1-1/2 cups milk in a small heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring. Whisk in coffee granules. Stir cornstarch mixture again and whisk into coffee mixture. Return to a boil, whisking, then remove from heat.

Add vanilla, a pinch of salt, and half of chocolate to saucepan, stirring.

Set saucepan in a large bowl of ice water to cool, whisking frequently.

Freeze chocolate mixture in ice-cream maker. When nearly frozen, add remaining chocolate and churn until blended. Serve gelato sprinkled with almonds. Makes 4 servings.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cupcakes for your campfire

Okay, okay, I realize that s'mores cupcakes have been done a million times before, but honestly, who can resist?

There are plenty of recipes on the web to be had, but I selected this one since Martha Stewart has yet to fail me. I had also been looking for another reason to bust out my culinary torch (which I'm getting pretty good at using, thanks for asking).

Mmmm...toasted meringuey goodness tops off a rich, chocolate cake.

This is my last post for the month of May - we're off to Boston/Cape Cod for a little R&R (and maybe some cannoli sampling). I hear that Modern Pastry Shop has some of the best cannolis this side of the pond.

Chocolate Graham Cracker Cupcakes with Toasted Marshmallow
Adapted from Martha Stewart

For cupcake: 
  • 2-1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (from about 20 squares)
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

For frosting:
  • 8 large egg whites
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 

Make cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 standard muffin tins with cupcake liners; set aside.
Sift 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix ingredients together on low speed.

In a large bowl, mix together eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla. Add to flour mixture and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl and continue mixing on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add boiling water and stir to combine; set cake batter aside.

Place graham cracker crumbs, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and melted butter in a large bowl; stir until well combined.

Place 1 tablespoon graham cracker mixture into the bottom of each prepared muffin cup. Use the bottom of a small glass to pack crumbs into the bottom of each cupcake liner. Reserve remaining graham cracker mixture for topping.

Place 2 teaspoons chocolate in each muffin cup. Transfer muffin tins to oven and bake until the edges of the graham cracker mixture is golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and fill each muffin cup three-quarters full with cake batter. Sprinkle each with remaining chocolate and graham cracker mixture. Return to oven and bake, rotating pans halfway through baking, until tops are firm and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer muffin tins to a wire rack and let cupcakes cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pan and let cool completely.

Make frosting:
Place egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer. Set over a saucepan with simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved and whites are warm to the touch, 3 to 4 minutes.

Transfer bowl to electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat, starting on low speed, gradually increasing to high, until stiff, glossy peaks form, 5 to 7 minutes. Add vanilla, and mix until combined.

Transfer frosting to a large pastry bag fitted with a large plain round or French tip (such as Ateco #867 or Ateco #809). Pipe frosting in a spiral motion on each cupcake. Transfer cupcakes to a baking sheet. Using a kitchen torch, lightly brown the frosting, taking care not to burn the cupcake liners. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container, up to 2 days.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Taking the new culinary torch for a test drive

Feast your eyes on the newest addition to my kitchen gadget collection.

Yep, I finally purchased a culinary torch and today I took it for a test drive on a little creme brulee. Now as much as I would enjoy eating creme brulee daily for the rest of the week, I decided to make a batch just large enough for two. The recipe that I found was for a lemon version, but I also infused some fresh rosemary into it because we all know that citrus and herbs are a match made in heaven.

A special thanks to my friend Scott, for use of his food styling props and talent!

Lemon Rosemary Crème Brûlée for Two
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar*
In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup of the sugar, rosemary and the lemon zest.

In a small saucepan heat the cream over medium heat until warm. Do not allow cream to boil. Whisk in the sugar-zest-herb mixture, remove the pan from the heat and allow mixture to cool. Transfer to a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour to allow the lemon and rosemary flavors to infuse into the cream.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

In a saucepan, reheat the cream mixture until warm, making sure the mixture does not boil. In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks lightly and then drizzle in the warm cream, whisking to combine. Strain the cream mixture into (2) 6-ounce, shallow ramekins and place in a small baking dish. Add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake the custards in the middle of the oven until just set, 35 to 40 minutes. Carefully remove the ramekins from the water bath and let cool on wire racks. Chill, uncovered, at least 4 hours or up to overnight.

Remove ramekins from refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes before proceeding. Sprinkle the 1-1/2 teaspoons of sugar evenly over each of the custards. Using a culinary torch, caramelize the sugar by holding it so that the flame just touches the surface. Start at the center and spiral out toward the edges of the ramekins. If the sugar begins to burn, pull the torch away and blow on the sugar to extinguish the flame. Serve immediately.

Caramelizing the sugar evenly takes a bit of practice (I had a few too many charred areas).

*Update: after a little research I've found that many resources suggest using turbinado sugar for the sugar crust instead of granulated. I've modified the recipe to reflect this update.

If you do not own a culinary torch, don't fret - a modest broiler will also do the trick.

Preheat the broiler and remove the ramekins from the refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes before proceeding. Sprinkle the 1-1/2 teaspoons of sugar evenly over each of the custards. Transfer the custards to a baking sheet and broil about 1-inch from the heat, until the sugar is caramelized, 1 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Happy Birthday Ma

My mother would have celebrated her 60th birthday today. It has been nearly two years since she passed away after a brief battle with cancer.

How I miss her adorable laugh...and what I wouldn't give to receive one of her warm hugs (I think those were her specialty).

My fondest memories of my mother took place in the kitchen. She was an avid cook and baker, and introduced me and my sister to both at an early age. Although she's no longer here, she continues to inspire me every day.

Today, I celebrate you ma. Happy Birthday.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Vegan! Earl Grey Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream Frosting

Well, we have another May birthday on our hands, and it just so happens that the birthday boy is a vegan...d'oh!

Now, kudos to anyone who has ever made a delicious vegan pastry. The few that I have tasted were either lacking in the flavor department or had texture that wasn't quite right. Baking is an exact science, and it can be challenging to find suitable replacements for animal products that most recipes require.

So, instead of trying to "veganize" an existing recipe, I took the less ambitious route of finding a vegan recipe that I knew would be successful. It's from a book written by the hosts of the vegan cooking show, Post Punk Kitchen and it's called, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World.

This vegan recipe book gets overwhelmingly awesome reviews, and with good reason - these cupcakes were marvelous! The only issue I had with this recipe was that the cupcakes stuck to the liners (the book suggests that you spray the cupcake liners which I neglected to do). ;(  I topped the cupcakes with some candied orange slices (recipe below).

Vegan! Earl Grey Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream Frosting
Adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World

For the cupcakes:
  • 1 cup soy milk
  • 4 Earl Grey teabags or 2 tablespoons loose Earl Grey tea
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup plain soy yogurt
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
For frosting:
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted vegan butter (I used the Earth Balance brand)
  • 2 cups powdered sugar (sifted)
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
Make the cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 375º and line tin with cupcake liners. In a small saucepan, heat soy milk until almost boiling, add tea bags and citrus zest, cover and remove from heat. Let sit for 10 minutes.When ready to use, stir teabags and thoroughly squeeze to ensure as much tea is dissolved in milk as possible.

In a large bowl, whisk together oil, yogurt, sugar, vanilla and tea mixture until all yogurt lumps disappear. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into wet ingredients. Mix until large lumps disappear; some small lumps are okay. Fill tins full and bake about 20 minutes until a sharp knife inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool. Makes 1 dozen.

Make the frosting:

Cream the butter until smooth, gradually beat in the powdered sugar until the mixture is very fluffy. Zest the lemon over the bowl into the frosting, add the lemon juice and stir until smooth. Spread or pipe the frosting on cooled cupcakes.

Candied Orange Slices
Adapted from Food and Wine - Grace Parisi
  • 1-1/2 cups water 
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar 
  • 1 navel orange, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
In a medium skillet, combine the water and sugar and bring to a boil. Add the orange slices and cook over moderate heat, turning them occasionally, until the liquid is reduced to a thin syrup and the orange slices are translucent, about 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to moderately low and simmer until the syrup is thick and the slices are tender but still intact, turning occasionally, about 10 minutes. Transfer the orange slices to a rack to cool. Reserve the syrup for another use.

The candied orange slices can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.