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!

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Lavender’s Blue…

12 08 2010

Can't you just smell it?

Lavender’s blue, dilly dilly, mint is so green
Together they, dilly dilly, make good ice cream.

What of chocolate, dilly dilly, is there no place?
Swirled through in chips, dilly dilly, get in my face.

Looks can be deceiving

I’ve been wanting to make this ice cream for over a year.  I wish I could say I came up with it while I was frolicking in a field of lavender in Provence, but the truth is much more banal.  My post-shower routine, especially in the summer, involves a cooling lavender-scented foot cream, which is lovely after a long, hot day on my feet.  Combine that with the minty-fresh post-toothbrushing-session breath, and it occurred to me one day how not-unlike each other lavender and mint really are.  I thought about different dessert applications for this revelation, and naturally, ice cream sprang to mind. 

At the time, I had neither an ice cream maker nor a good source of lavender flowers.  But times have changed.  I found some fragrant organic lavender in the Indian spice shop across the street, and almost immediately upon returning home whipped up a batch of my new favorite summer ice cream.  Mint chip has always been a favorite flavor of mine, but the subtle hint of lavender turns a childhood favorite into something far more sophisticated, and possibly even more delicious.

It almost feels like I’ve been doing you a disservice by keeping this one under my hat for so long.  So here you go:

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The Great Cupcake Extravaganza, Part Financier

20 06 2010

Fortunately, it turns out that the easiest cake in the French repertoire is also one of the tastiest.  I mean it.  In terms of the effort-to-reward ratio, this is absolutely one of the best recipes I know.  We make a version of this at work, for use as the base of a more complicated entremet, and had I known before just how little effort this involved, I would have started making it at home a long time ago.

Sifting the powdered sugar and cocoa powder

Financier is a classic French bakery treat, traditionally baked in little rectangular molds that are supposed to represent bars of gold.  The name means “banker,” which is either a reference to said shape, or the supposedly expensive ingredients that go into it.  I’m more inclined to believe the former explanation, because when have egg whites ever been considered a luxury item?  Usually it is made with almond meal, brown butter, powdered sugar, and the aforementioned egg whites.  This one has cocoa powder sifted in with the sugar, and since I really like the robust flavor of hazelnuts with chocolate, I switched out the almond meal for hazelnut.  Besides, I love the symmetry of using noisettes (hazelnuts) with beurre noisette (brown butter).  It just makes sense.

Just until foamy

The main reason I had to test this recipe was to see if it would work in cupcake form.  The one we do at work is baked in a thin sheet, so I didn’t know if it would puff up into an attractive cupcake shape or if it would bake through before the top burned.  One test confirmed that it worked beautifully.

a rainbow of cupcake liners

If you read my other blog, you’ve already seen the results of this first test.  I also tested them for next-day-edibilty (still bangin’), and even a more traditional version, with almond meal and a bit of fresh fruit (in this case, cherries) baked in.  Those, in fact, I whipped up at midnight on a Saturday, after a long day of exploring Paris by foot with some friends.  We all enjoyed our dessert, and my friends still caught the last Métro home.  If that’s not quick and easy, I don’t know what is.

cherry-almond financiers

What I’ve learned from all of this testing (apart from the fact that they disappear as quickly as they bake) is that as long as you repect the 1:1:1:1 ratio of butter, egg whites, nut meal, and powdered sugar, with 10% of one part  (by weight, bien sûr) something dry like cocoa powder or cake flour, this cake is almost infinitely adaptable.  So try this one.  Make it suit your tastes or your mood.  I guarantee you’ll want to make them again and again.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Financier Cupcakes

When I realized how easy this classic French cake was to make, I couldn’t help but tinker with the recipe a bit to see if it would work as a cupcake.  And as long as we’re changing things, why not switch out the almond meal for hazelnut?  If you can’t find hazelnut meal, grind the same weight of nuts with the powdered sugar in a food processor. And if you want to go cocoa-less, substitute 20 grams of cake flour for the cocoa powder.

200 g / 7 oz. powdered sugar
20 g / ¾ oz. cocoa powder
200 g / 7 oz. hazelnut meal (Or any other nut meal.  Peanut would probably be awesome.)
200 g / 7 oz. egg whites
200 g / 7 oz. butter, browned with ¼ of a vanilla bean (vanilla bean optional, but worth it)
Pinch of sea salt

  1. Preheat oven to 200 C / 395 F.  Grease a muffin tin or line it with paper liners.
  2. Sift the powdered sugar and the cocoa powder together.  Whisk in the hazelnut meal.
  3. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites with the salt just until frothy.  Whisk in the sifted sugar, then the browned butter.
  4. Fill the prepared muffin cups about ¾ full.  Bake 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it.
  5. Cool about 10 minutes, then remove from the baking pan.  Continue cooling, or devour the cupcakes warm.  They will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days, but they’ve never lasted that long in my house.

Makes 10 cupcakes.

On this day in 2008: Apricots and Ginger and Butter, Oh My!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





A Savory Pumpkin Pie

16 12 2009

Patidou quiche, uncut

December.  Dreaded by pâtissiers around the world.  I wish I had something witty to say about this quiche I fashioned from last week’s CSA panier score, but I made over 100 kilos of ganache today at work. 

Before...

I used up all the chocolate (60 kilos) and all the cream (40 liters) and that’s why I stopped.  I have one more kind to make tomorrow morning before I spend another long day wrestling the hardened (well, not really hardened, more like firm-ened) ganaches into frames so that they can be cut, enrobed, boxed and sold for Christmas.  The skin on my hands feels like the sticky side of velcro, and all I really want is to dig into the leftovers of this roast patidou squash and shallot quiche, which is as luxuriously creamy as you could ever possibly want a quiche to be.

...and After

I’m counting on it to smooth out today’s rough edges.  As for my hands, well, that’s why God created shea butter.

A little slice of heaven

Read on for the recipe.

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The Land of Chocolate

25 08 2009

It seems ironic that the day I finally sit down to post my chocolate ice cream recipe is the first rainy day in a couple of weeks.  Especially since I created it in Seattle, back in June when I was still on vacation, where we had nothing but beautiful sunny weather.

writing the recipe - photo by Nick

It was a chocolate-intensive day (and sandwich-intensive, too, I might add) that started with a tour of Theo Chocolate.  While I admire their commitment to organic and fair trade production, I though the presentation got a little preachy on those topics, to the detriment of explaining, say, how ganache is made.  Not for my benefit, mind you, I make the stuff for a living, but I doubt anyone on the tour with me that day left with any real understanding of the difference between the production of a bar of chocolate and the production of a chocolate confection.  Still, it wasn’t a total wash.  We got to taste several different chocolates, from single origin bars to novelty bars to the aforementioned ganaches.  I couldn’t leave without picking up some of the Ghost chile chocolate and a box of single-malt scotch ganaches.

You can't make ice cream without cream

One of my missions while in the USA was to gather up some American artisan chocolate bars.  I was looking in particular for Patric, which my former boss can’t praise highly enough, and Askinosie, which I was turned on to by David Lebovitz.  Upon hitting the ground in San Francisco, I was on the lookout for chocolate shops.  I found Bittersweet without much trouble, and they did carry a handful of chocolate bars.  I walked out of there about $35 poorer and four chocolate bars richer, but I was a little disappointed that it was more of a café/coffeeshop than a true chocolate shop.

Whisking the chocolate into the custard - photo by Nick

Fortunately, Pete, our host in Seattle, is a chocolate enthusiast.  He had spotted Chocolopolis and wanted to check it out.  Having a couple of chocolate-loving houseguests was the perfect excuse.  So following the Theo tour (with a little lunch break) we headed to Chocolopolis.

And it was there that I found what I was looking for:

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Tea for Two Tarts, the Second

17 08 2009

Mise en place for tea ganache

When we last left off, I was hoping for more opportunities to combine tea and fruit for unusually delicious Summer desserts.  As luck would have it, the downstairs neighbors invited us to dinner less than a week later.  I was informed that the pregnant wife had largely lost her sweet tooth, but I like a challenge.  I figured something featuring dark chocolate and fresh seasonal fruit would fit the bill nicely. 

A fan of white nectarine slices

Flipping through Pierre Hermé’s Larousse du Chocolat for inspiration, I found a recipe for an intriguing-sounding chocolate tart with jasmine tea and peaches.  Hmmm…I do like a good ganache tart.  Nick had come home from the market with a bag of assorted stone fruits that morning, so we tasted one of each and determined that the white nectarines were really something special.  Besides the gorgeous blush color of the flesh, they had a unique aroma and delicate flavor that I thought would play nicely off the bittersweet chocolate.  Scrapping Hermé’s overly complicated tart dough in favor of a simple almond sablé (because we all know that almonds and stone fruit are like chocolate and peanut butter – they just go) and subbing in a more robust tea in the (now milk chocolate-free) ganache, I was pretty sure I had a winner on my hands.

Just Glazed White Nectarine and Tea Ganache Tart

For the final touch, I topped the über-shiny ganache with another circle of pretty nectarine slices, which I then glazed with a nappage fashioned from some handmade jam.  The neighbors were duly impressed with the tart’s beauty when I arrived at their door, and not a crumb remained at the end of the night, so I assume it tasted acceptable.  (Ok, it tasted great.  The tea subtly perfumed the intense chocolate, and the nectarines provided a juicy counterpoint.  It may be one of the best desserts I’ve ever made, and it wasn’t the slightest bit difficult.  Look! I did it while drinking a mojito!)  Even the sweet tooth-lacking pregnant woman had seconds.

Want the recipe?  Here it is:

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Tarte au Ganache Cassis

13 07 2009

The CSA panier that I get usually contains about 5 types of vegetables and 1 fruit every week.  And every week there is at least one surprise, which is one of my favorite things about it.  I love the challenge of coming up with recipes for things I don’t think I like, or new ways to use things I’m getting tired of, and especially playing with new (to me) ingredients.  Picking up my first delivery after coming back from vacation, I was expecting a bag brimming with luscious summer produce – tomatoes (check), zucchini (check), eggplant (not yet), stone fruits and berries (no dice).  The first fruit I got (of which I got a double ration) was cassis.

Definitely not blueberries

At first glance I thought they were blueberries, which excited me greatly.  Further inspection revealed two pints of blackcurrants (cassis in French).  Tart and seedy, they didn’t lend themselves to out-of-hand eating, so I set about finding something to do with them.  A search of my Frenchie-est cookbooks came up fruitless (rimshot).  Desperate for some inspiration, I opened up Pierre Hermé’s Larousse du Chocolat (which, regrettably, doesn’t seem to exist in English, at least not on Amazon) and found one recipe using cassis.  It was a ridiculously complicated chocolate and cassis entremet, with multiple layers of cake, ganache, syrup, and glaze.  Way fussier than anything I want to do outside of work.  I did, however, think that the ganache portion of the dessert had potential.  A cassis ganache tart sounded terribly sophisticated, and easy, too.  So I threw together a quick batch of my favorite sweet crust and baked it to a crisp golden brown.

The ganache itself was quite simple.  Minimalist, even.  I buzzed the fresh cassis with my immersion blender and was delighted by the rich burgundy color.

What do you get when you put cassis in a blender?

I pushed this mush through a fine-mesh strainer and was rewarded with an impossibly shiny, jewel-toned purée.

Mesmerizingly shiny cassis purée

I combined the purée with some water, sugar, and crème de cassis liqueur and brought the mixture to a boil.  As soon as it was hot, I poured it over some chopped chocolate (70%, from Madagascar, because chocolate from there tends to be fruity and I thought it would be a harmonious pairing), let it sit for a minute to soften the chocolate, then stirred until the ganache was silky smooth.  Hermé’s recipe called for as much butter as chocolate, but I was afraid that would dull the flavors.  So I whisked in a teaspoon or two of butter and called it good.  While it was still warm, I poured the ganache into the cooled tart shell and carefully set it in the fridge to set up.  There was a little extra ganache, so Nick and I dipped strawberries and apricots into it to get our chocolate fix for the evening.  I’m pleased to report it was delicious.

The next night, I removed the tart from the pan and cut a couple of thin slices.  They looked lonely all alone on their spare white plates, so I strewed a few fresh cassis over them and called it dessert.

Chocolate-Cassis Ganache Tart

Every bit as elegant as I had hoped, the ganache was the perfect consistency: firm enough to hold its shape when sliced, yet soft enough to melt upon contact with the tongue.  The chocolate and cassis made great friends, too, the bittersweet chocolate taming the puckery cassis while allowing it to keep its personality.  Which makes me wonder… why aren’t there more chocolate-cassis recipes out there?  And what would you do with fresh cassis?  I’d love to hear your ideas!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








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