Encyclopédie du Chocolat

18 04 2011

Way back at the beginning of the year, upon learning of it on Fiona’s blog, I signed myself up for the Foodie’s Reading Challenge.  I have since posted about zero (0) books.  It’s downright shameful.  I mean, reading and cooking are two of my very favorite pastimes.  So here goes nothing.

Foodie's Reading Challenge

My very thoughtful husband bought me this absolutely fantastic book for Christmas, and I’ve been wanting to write a little bit about it but haven’t really known where to start.  It is, after all, an encyclopedia.  An Encyclopedia of Chocolate, to be more precise, edited by Frédéric Bau, the director of the chocolate school for Valrhona.

Encyclopédie du Chocolat

It is a sumptuously photographed book, which make it a delight to flip through, licking my lips at the mouthwatering pictures.  But it’s full of useful information, too.  The first part of the book is dedicated to techniques and basic recipes.  As a professional, this is probably my favorite part, because if I’m wondering, for example, why my praliné isn’t setting up properly at work, I can find the answer here.  (the mixture is probably too warm, in case you’re wondering.)  Or how to substitute dark chocolate for milk chocolate, and vice versa – the cacao percentage in a chocolate can have drastic effects on a recipe if you’re not careful.  Or say I just want to make Nutella from scratch.

I also love having such a great set of base recipes such as ganaches, pâte à choux, cream fillings, mousses, and caramels.  That way I can play around with the individual components and let my creativity run free.  Knowing that I have a good recipe as a jumping-off point is always a good start.

There’s an excellent illustrated section towards the back which shows the equipment used in professional pastry and chocolate shops.  Since it’s in French, this section is invaluable for my working  vocabulary.

In the middle are the recipes, grouped by category (Grands Classiques, tartes, and so on) with one recipe per chapter presented by a French celebrity chef.  Gilles Marchal of La Maison du Chocolat, Jean-Paul Hévin of best chocolat chaud in Paris fame, and Cyril Lignac of just about everything are among the participants.

Encyclopédie du Chocolat even won the award for best chocolate cookbook at this year’s cookbook festival in Paris.

When I finally decided to see what this book could do, I looked to the classic ganache tart.

note the lovely book in the background...

Of course, it came out beautifully.  For a photo of the finished product, as well as the resulting recipe, click on over to the Recipe of the Month at Girls’ Guide to Paris.

If you’re interested in buying the book yourself, and you can read French (the English version is due in October of this year), I’ve assembled a few links that might help you do so.  It’s up to you to figure out which one is geographically appropriate for you.

Encyclopédie du Chocolat at Valrhona Chocolate (US)

Encyclopédie du Chocolat at Amazon (Canada)

Encyclopédie du Chocolat at Amazon (France)

On this day in 2009: Kicking it Old School

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Simplest Apple Tart

17 01 2011

When I’m at a loss as to what to cook or bake, I start by going through my pantry, fridge, and freezer.  I’ve had a puff pastry shell lurking in the freezer – taking up valuable space – for quite a while now, and I’ve been wanting to use it, but then a better idea comes along for those vegetables and I end up making dal again instead of that curried vegetable potpie I liked so much last winter.

Sliced apples and puff pastry...

I also tend to have a surfeit of apples in the fruit bowl in the winter.  (We are largely in the season of  storage vegetables these days, and apples keep for months in the cold.)  Two birds?  One stone.

...plus butter, brown sugar, and honey

We were already making tamales that weekend (Nick’s promised me a guest post about them, but let me assure you, they were fantastic) so I didn’t want to do anything too fussy.  A simple paste of butter, brown sugar, honey, and a pinch of vanilla salt was all I needed to turn these two pantry staples into a rustically beautiful dessert.

Apple tart, baked to a lovely golden-brown

The secret ingredient melts over the sliced apples as they bake, giving them a burnished beauty and creating a gooey filling to the tart.  Really, there are few things I’ve made that have such an incredible effort-to-payoff ratio.

What can you cook out of your pantry right now?

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Rugelah

11 01 2011

It’s easy to forget, with all the snow and holiday hoopla, just how much of winter is still yet to come after the new year.  The French use Epiphany as an excuse to keep eating sweets throughout the month of January, in the form of the galette des rois.  And I think they’re right.  Gloomy January days are no time to give up the pleasures of rich, buttery doughs baked to an appealing golden brown or sweet, nutty fillings.  Besides, Philly cream cheese has finally arrived in France!  I think we should celebrate with some rugelah.

Cover your bench in powdered sugar

You might spell it another way (I most often see “rugelach”), but orthography aside, this is really a wonderful little pastry.  Crumbly cream cheese dough, sticky fruit and nuts, and ridiculously easy to make.  Rugelah come from the Eastern European Jewish baking tradition, and I first learned to bake them in a Jewish-owned, European-style bakery in Dallas, of all places.  The ones we made there were filled with walnuts, which I can’t eat, so I had to sate myself with the incredible smell of roasted flour and caramelized jam when I pulled them out of the (enormous) oven every night.

Rolled out thin and long

One Thanksgiving the chef took pity on me and let me use the filling for the pecan rings in the rugelah so I could finally taste them.  My nose had not let me down – they were fantastic.  Since then, I’ve had to make my own walnut-free version at home from time to time.

Smeared with apple butter and sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar nuts

Read the rest of this entry »





Hot and Cold… and Caramel

22 11 2010

A few weeks ago, Jenni of Pastry Methods and Techniques posed an interesting challenge.  She wanted to play with hot and cold, temperatures and flavors.  I love this sort of game.  Let’s see, cold custard… crème caramel is one of the easiest and tastiest ones I know.  Now how can we warm it up?  This being Fall, warm spices like cinnamon and ginger immediately spring to mind.  (I considered star anise, but upon sticking my nose in the jar, I decided that anise/licorice is a distinctly cool flavor.)  So we have a warm-tasting cold thing, how about a cool-tasting warm thing to go with it?  I think pears are on the cool end of the flavor spectrum, so to speak, but if we cooked them with butter and sugar until they were caramelized and a little sticky?  Then they would be hot, and awesome on top of a creamy dessert.

An autumnal caramel palette

And are they ever!  The spiced crème caramel has an almost pumpkin pie-like flavor, the caramel makes it decadent, and the pears keep it from going overboard.  Personally, I think these would make a great Thanksgiving dessert, as long as you don’t have any die-hard traditionalists at your table.  And maybe even if you do – it’s good enough to change some minds.

I’m very interested to see what other people have come up with in response to Jenni’s challenge, so it’s fortunate that she’ll be posting a roundup of hot-and-cold inspired desserts on December 1st.  Which means you still have time to play along, if you’re so inclined.

Spiced Crème Caramel with Hot Caramel Pears

Warm spices, cold, creamy custard, hot pears and a double dose of caramel make this darn near my ideal Fall dessert. It would be right at home at the end of an elegant holiday meal. As a bonus, it’s completely do-ahead: the custard needs time to chill, and the pears can be reheated in a snap.

For the Crème Caramel:

9 oz. / 265 ml milk (whole is best, 2% is ok, but please not skim)
3 oz. / 89 ml cream
3 Tbsp. Brown sugar
2 Tbsp. Sugar
1 stick cinnamon
2 whole cloves
A few flakes of whole mace, if you can get it, or a few grates of fresh nutmeg
1 piece of crystallized ginger, sliced
A pinch of salt (I used vanilla salt, which is salt with a vanilla bean scraped into it)
3 eggs
½ cup sugar, or thereabouts, plus some water.

  1. Preheat the oven to 330 F / 165 C.
  2. Combine the milk, cream, sugar, spices, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring up to a boil, remove from heat, cover, and let steep 15-30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, put the sugar in a small pan and add just enough water to moisten it. Place over medium-high heat and cook without stirring until it begins to brown. Swirl it gently until it is a deep amber color (or even darker – I like mine when it just starts to smoke). Quickly pour a thin layer of caramel into the bottom of five ramekins. Set aside.
  4. Strain the spiced milk into a blending-appropriate container, add the eggs, and blend until smooth. Pour this custard into the prepared ramekins.
  5. Place the ramekins into a large oven-proof dish. Put the dish in the oven, then fill it with hot tap water until the water level is about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the custard is just set (it should wobble a bit in the middle when jostled), about 30-35 minutes. Cool completely. These can be made up to four days in advance, but keep them covered and chilled.

For the pears:

3 ripe Bosc pears, peeled, halved, and cored
2 Tbsp. / 30 g unsalted butter
½ cup / 100 g sugar

  1. Melt the butter in a medium nonstick skillet. Add the sugar and cook until the sugar starts to melt.  Place the pear halves in the sauce and cook over medium-low heat, turning occasionally, until evenly caramelized. Serve immediately or chill and reheat.

For the dessert:

To unmold the chilled custards, run a thin-bladed knife around the edge. Invert the ramekin onto a plate and shake a bit to loosen. It should come out in a splash of caramel sauce. Top the custards with a warm pear half and a little extra caramel sauce from the pears.

Makes 5 desserts, plus one extra pear half.





More Football Baking

26 10 2010

It’s getting to be a bit of a thing, this football-watching.  I’ve really taken to baking or cooking up something delicious to share with my friends on Sunday, and it’s really nice to have something fun to look forward to on Sunday night – a nice cap to the weekend that lets you forget about Monday morning for a few more hours.

Gotta love the muffin method!

Two Sundays ago, Melissa was hosting, and she wanted to make a big pot of chili.  She requested that I whip up some cornbread to go along with it, and of course I was game.  But I didn’t want to stop at just plain old cornbread.

Jalapeño and cheddar make everything better!

No, only the best in home-pickled and hand-imported ingredients will do.  That is to say, I found a half-full jar of pickled peppers lurking in the fridge, and the Baby Loaf of Tillamook cheddar needed to be put to good use, because moldy Tillamook is not an option in my house.

Read the rest of this entry »





French Baking For The American Football Crowd

19 10 2010

Come fall, many Americans living abroad miss the excitement, camaraderie, and all-around fun of watching NFL football.  Nick and I are no exception.  But this year we’ve joined forces with a group of friends to get a pass which allows us to watch all the games we want over the internet.  We’ve been getting together every Sunday night to watch the day games live.  People take turns hosting the gathering, and everyone brings beer and snacks to share.  It’s a convivial atmosphere and a fun group – I dare say I’d have fun even if I didn’t enjoy football.  (But since I do, go Niners!)

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Sablés

Nick and I missed the first couple of weeks of the season, but we’ve been going for the last three weeks, and I’ve baked something every time.  The first week we went, I brought these rhubarb crumble bars – I didn’t have any quince jam, so I just doubled the amount of rhubarb filling.  They were devoured.  Then following week, I made the ever-popular bacon-onion dip, but I felt that a sweet of some sort was expected of me, too.  (That’s what happens when you make pastries for a living.)  So I took the opportunity to try one of the many, many recipes I have flagged in Pierre Hermé’s Larousse du Chocolat.

Ideal vs. actual

Looking at those squiggles and imagining the crisp butteriness that surely accompanies each bite, my thoughts somehow turned to peanut butter.  I figured I could swap out half the butter for peanut butter and the cookies would be that much more delicious (and more American football-watching appropriate).  Well, as you can see in the above picture, it didn’t exactly go according to plan.  It turns out that peanut butter is a lot drier than butter, and as a result my dough was way too stiff to be piped out into dainty swirls.  That’s what I get for trying to bake something fancy for a football party.  Still, the familiar rounds with the classic fork design let my friends know that these were indeed peanut butter cookies, despite their chocolatey appearance.  Rolling subsequent batches in sparkly sugar felt even more American.  The only thing that belies the French origin of these cookies is the crumbly texture typical of French sablé cookies – “sablé” being French for “sandy.”  And if you wanted to serve these at your next football get-together, I don’t think anyone would complain.

A French-American alliance

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Sablés

The refined tea cookie gets a homespun twist with the classic flavor combination of chocolate and peanut butter.

4.6 oz. / 130 g all-purpose flour
4.6 oz. / 130 g cake flour
1 oz. / 30 g cocoa powder
4.4 oz. / 125 g butter, softened
4.4 oz. / 125 g peanut butter (smooth or crunchy is up to you)
3.5 oz. / 100 g powdered sugar
A pinch of fine sea salt
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
granulated and/or turbinado sugar for rolling (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 355 F / 180 C. Sift the flours and cocoa powder together and set aside.
  2. Whisk the butter and peanut butter until soft and creamy. Sift in the powdered sugar and add the salt. Continue whisking until evenly combined. Measure out 4 tablespoons of the egg whites and whisk them in.
  3. Add the sifted flours and cocoa powder to the bowl with the butters. Stir gently with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the dough comes together. It may help to incorporate half the flour at a time.
  4. Form the dough into 1” / 2.5 cm balls. Roll in sugar, if desired, and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Flatten the cookies by making a crosshatch pattern with the tines of a fork.
  5. Bake about 10 minutes, until cookies are firm with a slight give when poked with a finger. Repeat shaping and baking until all the dough is used up. Cookies will keep for about 3 days in an airtight container.

Makes about 60 cookies.

On this day in 2009: Le Cumin et Les Noix de Pecan

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Like Flies To Honey?

11 09 2010

Disclaimer: This is not the post I originally intended to write today, but sometimes things happen and you just have to share them.  There may be swearing in this post.  I can’t help it – it was an exciting day- though I usually subscribe to the Arrested Development school of thought, where the bleeps are funnier than the actual cursing.

I am in the process of making the most exciting dessert I’ve made in a long time.  Maybe ever.  And I haven’t even tasted it yet.  But wow, my heart is racing.

Mmmm... caramelized honey

So there I was, innocently caramelizing some honey, taking its temperature because it’s hard to tell by color with honey and I’d hate to burn it.  Suddenly, something flies in the open window.  This, in itself, is not an unusual occurrence, and I saw no cause for alarm.  Until it started heading for me, standing at the stove.  A bee!  I stepped back, dripping honey on the floor, and it hovered around a bit before flying back out the way it came.  Whew!

The bee attacks!

The first bee attack. I wanted to get a picture of the bee, because I thought it was funny that the minute I start boiling honey a bee appears. Where am I, cartoon land?

I returned the honey to the heat and began peeling and slicing apples, when I heard a buzzing sound emanating from the window, near the ceiling.  “Damn it!  Go away!” I yell at the intruder.  “Just. Get. Out!”  Heedless of my warning, the bee aims for my sticky, apple juice-covered hands, and I become acutely aware of the bareness of my feet.  (The one time I’ve been stung by an insect it was on the bottom of my foot, and I am in no hurry to repeat the experience.)  Again I back away, knocking over the garbage can in the process, only to be ambushed on the other side by ANOTHER bee, who has sneakily entered via the other window.  It is about now that I notice the cat staring rather intently at the third window, this one closed because it is blocked by the dining table.  She seems to have cornered a third bee.  I say a brief prayer that she isn’t allergic to bee stings, because I really don’t want to make an emergency trip to the vet today, before one of the bees flies at me and manages to chase me into the hallway.

ring of apples

I find a safe haven in the WC (like many French apartments, mine has a separated bathroom: one room with the toilet – the WC – and another with the shower and sink) and close the door.  Ah, safety.  Now the Rational and Irrational parts of my brain have a chance to talk.

Read the rest of this entry »





The Great Cupcake Extravaganza, part Wedding

26 08 2010

When we last left off, I was pondering the potential difficulties of baking nine dozen wedding cupcakes in a borrowed home kitchen in August.

Lemon and strawberry filled cupcakes, before icing.

It got more complicated before the job was done.  Instead of a kitchen 10 minutes’ walk from my hotel, I was booked in a different home kitchen, 15 minutes’ drive across town.  So I had to rely on family and friends of the happy couple to get me to and from my workspace.

Piping away

And then the caterer wanted the cupcakes early, to have them set up at the beginning of the reception.  This caused a small amount of stress when I didn’t know the weather forecast, but Mother Nature smiled on us and gave us a lovely day in the mid-70s – cool enough that I didn’t have to worry about the buttercream melting in the sun.

still piping...

While I did remember to pack my silicone molds for the fillings, and to bring over French cocoa powder and Turkish hazelnuts, somehow I forgot to bring along a piping bag and my trusty star tip.  Fortunately, one of the guests was able to bring in a set of tips from Boston; unfortunately, they were a bit too small for what I had in mind.  I am blessed with a very resourceful husband who managed to doctor one of the tips to make it closer to the one I had left behind.  Another crisis averted!

Read the rest of this entry »





A Memory That Always Makes Me Smile

9 07 2010

It’s great to have a rapport with your boss (or bosses).  Back when I was working in Dallas, I had such a rapport.  I worked for a couple with whom I got along swimmingly.  We had a lot of similar views about food – important when you’re working with it – and complementary desires to experiment and try new ingredients, techniques, and so on.  It was, however, a very small company, and as such, the finances were always tough.  Here’s something that happened one afternoon, rather typical of the sorts of exchanges I used to have with my bosses, when we all spoke the same language.

THE SCENE: Pastry shop.  Day.  MR. BOSS MAN enters.  He’s been crunching the numbers.  He gives a rundown to MS. BOSS WOMAN, or maybe he tells her that we can’t afford to buy any more chocolate.

MR. BOSS MAN: (Pointing at me) … And you.  Have been on retroactive vacation for the last two weeks.

ME: That was the worst vacation ever.

MR. BOSS MAN: Wait ’til you get the bill for two weeks of pastry camp.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





The Great Cupcake Extravaganza, Part Tasting

2 07 2010

Way back in May, having finally settled into my new kitchen enough to dare attempting a slew of cupcake flavors, I emailed Hope and D. with a list of suggestions.  Here’s what they had to choose from:

Lemon meringue: butter cake flavored with lemon zest, lemon curd filling, toasted meringue top
Key lime-coconut: coconut cake, lime curd filling, toasted meringue top
D. special: chocolate hazelnut financier cake, praline buttercream
Blueberry-lemon: butter cake, lemon curd filling, blueberry buttercream
Blackberry: butter cake or devil’s food cake, blackberry gelée filling, blackberry buttercream  (also works with raspberry)
Chocolate-banana: banana cake, sour cream ganache frosting
Margarita: butter cake flavored with lime and orange zest, tequila buttercream (possible margarita curd filling)
Mojito: butter cake flavored with lime zest, rum syrup, mint buttercream
Strawberry-Champagne: butter cake, strawberry-champagne gelée filling, triple crème or cream cheese frosting

After much deliberation, they let me know their picks: lemon meringue, D. special, blackberry (except they were clever and didn’t specify butter or chocolate cake – way to sneak in an extra flavor!), chocolate-banana, mojito, and strawberry-champagne.

Cupcakes, undressed 
Clockwise from top left: devil’s food cake with blackberry gelée, banana cake, citrus butter cake, chocolate-hazelnut financier, lemon butter cake with lemon curd filling, butter cake with strawberry-champagne gelée, butter cake with blackberry gelée.

Those of you who have been following may have noticed that I didn’t do a post on the fillings.  Here’s why: it would have been about four sentences long.  Make lemon curd.  Freeze.  Let strawberries/blackberries macerate in sugar until juicy.  Purée, stir in melted gelatin, freeze.  (Okay, the strawberry one has an extra step, which is to add the champagne after the gelatin, so the finished gelée  will still have bubbles in it.)

Since that lemon curd is so freaking good, I stuck a whole pyramid of it into the cupcake.  (The gelée-filled cupcakes got half-domes.)  The cupcake then got a blob of pre-buttercream meringue piled on top, and it went into a very hot oven for a quick toast.

The banana cake and the chocolate-blackberry got swirls of sour cream ganache.  Chocolate blackberry also got a rosette of blackberry buttercream, like its brother-from-another-mother, Butter blackberry.  They got topped with a cute whole blackberry apiece.  The plain citrus cupcake got dressed with rum-mint buttercream, and a mint leaf to pretty it up.  The praliné buttercream slipped on top of the financier, and got a sprinkle of praliné crumbs to top it off.  And strawberry-champagne, well, my attempt at making cream cheese icing using half fromage à tartiner and half Délice de Bourgogne was a hot mess.  It tasted great, but it was more soup than icing.  I think it would have worked perfectly had I had some Philly, and fortunately, Hope and D. trusted me.  We tasted that one by spooning the liquid frosting over pieces of the cake, which delivered the desired flavors, if not the attempted look.

Cupcakes, ready to be gobbled up

So what did they think?  I’m pleased to say that they loved them.  The lemon meringue and the D. special were shoo-ins.  But they wanted a third flavor.  Wanting to choose something unusual, banana-chocolate and butter blackberry were eliminated, despite the awesomeness of the ganache on the former and the fruity refreshing qualities of the latter.  So it was down to three.  The second runner-up was chocolate blackberry, the first runner-up was mojito, thus making the winner strawberry champagne!  Against all odds, and a pretty serious handicap!

I took the leftovers (intentionally made leftovers, that is) to a party at Ann‘s later that night.  People flipped over the mojito cupcake and the simple but ever-popular devil’s food cake with sour cream ganache.  So I’m feeling good about this wedding.  Three dozen each of three flavors?  Piece of cake!  (Ha!)  Baking in a borrowed kitchen in Massachusetts in August?  That remains to be seen.

* * * * *

In other news, sometimes when I’m not cooking I like to go to rock shows.  Like last weekend, when I got a free pass to Solidays in Paris.  I wrote about it over on Secrets of Paris, if you’re interested…

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 307 other followers

%d bloggers like this: