The One Where I Get Podcasted

30 05 2011

Just a quick update, because this week is pure insanity, but I got to spend Saturday with the lovely Katia and Kyliemac, of K&K Podcast fame.  We took a field trip to the pâtisserie where I work, picked up some tasty treats to sample, and went back to the studio to record a couple of shows.  The first one, episode 441, is already up, and the second one should be posted midweek.  I hope you’ll listen!

In fact, I think you should be listening to Katia and Kyliemac anyway.  I dare you to read one of their show titles and not want to listen.  They are a dynamic duo, whether they’re interviewing “interesting people doing interesting things” or just chatting about the expat life or current issues in Paris.  It’s easy to spend the whole afternoon listening, and I expect you’ll soon consider them friends, as I do.

UPDATE: Episode 442 is now up, in which we talk about some of the secrets of the pastry shop and the life of a pastry chef!

On this day in 2008: Calzone at Home

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





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

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Lisboa, Saturday: Castle, Rain, and Free Wine!

23 12 2010

Continued from here.

Following the band-bus ride, Nick and I slept like babies.  We awoke on Saturday morning to near-freezing temperatures, and gray skies.  I thought we left Paris?  No matter, It was time for more coffee and custard tarts.

Confeitaria Nacional

Founded in 1829, the Confeitaria Nacional is special not only for its vintage décor, but for the fact that they roast their own coffee.  It was ever so slightly more expensive than the other pastry shops we visited – coffee was 70 cents and our four-pastry breakfast with two coffees cost a little over five euros – but the quality was evident.  If I were to continue the rankings, I’d say these were the second-best pastéis de nata we ate, after Pastéis de Belém.

Custard tarts at Confeitaria Nacional

Nicely browned, flaky crust, creamy custard, and the cute, for-some-reason-makes-me-think-of-old-pharmacies surroundings made these tarts almost worth the extra 10 cents.

After breakfast we wanted to catch the famous tram 28 up the hill to the moorish Alfama district and the Castelo de São Jorge (st. George’s castle).  But when we finally found the right tram stop, it was already populated by more than a tram’s worth of tourists.  We waited a few minutes, then set off on foot, figuring that the uphill walk would warm us up as well as work off our breakfast.  It didn’t take too long before we arrived at the Sé Cathedral.

definitely NOT gothic

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Colored Tiles and Custard Tarts

19 12 2010

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted here.  December is brutal on pastry chefs everywhere.  I figured out that my workday is a solid three hours longer during the holidays than it is in the summer, and lunch breaks are shorter or nonexistent. Naturally, when I come home at the end of the day I’m exhausted, and it often comes down to a choice between blogging or showering and eating dinner.  I don’t think anyone can blame me for choosing the latter.  That said, this is going to be a big post, and I hope it will make up for my absence.

I believe I mentioned that Nick and I took a weekend trip to Lisbon a few weeks ago.  We had a fantastic time, and it makes me wonder what took me so long to visit Portugal.

beautifully patterned tiles

I was struck immediately by how colorful the city is.  I took tons of pictures of the tile-covered and pastel-painted buildings, and I know Nick got at least twice as many.  I’ve put some of my favorites up in a Flickr set, which I invite you to browse.  Compared to the gray of Paris in winter, the sunshine and bright colors of Portugal were just what I needed.

tile-covered building

We flew in on a Thursday night, and after grabbing a cheap cab to our hotel, we whipped out our guidebook in search of a nearby restaurant.  Cervejaria Ribadouro turned out to be just across the street, and was a good introduction to typical Portuguese restaurants.  They had several tanks of live seafood in the front, with market prices by the kilo listed nearby.  In addition to the lobsters, crabs, and cod, the menu had a large selection of meats, most of which were pork.  Nick made up his mind to order the pork with clams as soon as he saw it, and we later learned that this is a very traditional pairing in Portuguese cuisine.  I had the black pork, which was juicy and flavorful.  We started with bread and a stuffed crab, and washed it all down with a couple of big, cheap beers.

The next morning, we began on a quest that would carry us through the weekend: eating as many custard tarts as possible.

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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.





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.








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