Porter Chocolate Mousse

26 04 2013

St. Patrick’s Day, 1997. It’s spring break of my freshman year of college. I’m at a party with my boyfriend in his hometown, surrounded by his friends from high school. I’m halfheartedly sipping a Budweiser, as someone had given it to me and I didn’t want to seem stuck up by not accepting. You see, at the time, I didn’t think I liked beer. My boyfriend comes into the room holding a green plastic cup filled with a dark liquid. There is thick foam on top. It’s a Guinness Stout – a beer I’ve never seen, in a style I’ve never heard of. He offers me a sip. Hey! This is good! Really good! And all of a sudden it dawns on me why people like beer. I finally understand what Homer Simpson is talking about when he refers to “delicious, frosty, beer” and I want to know more. And I want more. And for the next few years, given a choice, I always choose a beer from the darker end of the spectrum: stouts, porters, brown ales, dunkels. Fortunately I am in the Pacific Northwest, and there is a lot of great beer to choose from.

Fast forward many years, and I’ve developed a certain taste for assertively hopped beers. I tend now to reserve stouts, porters, and the like for dessert. Which is how I ended up tasting the Porter Gourmande from My Beer Company last Friday night at Supercoin. The dark, lightly effervescent beer poured dark with a rich tan head*, making me nostalgic for that long-ago first Guinness. (Not the boyfriend, though, since he was with me. Yep, I married that guy.) This beer had a strong coffee nose, and fruity, almost grassy chocolate malt flavors rounded out with a hint of vanilla from real beans added during the ferment. It was actually an excellent dessert on its own, but I thought it would be fun to work it into a chocolate dessert for Beer Month. Since I’m focusing on chocolate mousse this month in the Paris Pastry Crawl, why not make a beer chocolate mousse?

cream, beer, chocolate

I couldn’t decide whether the beer would be better served by a dark chocolate or a milk chocolate, and since I happen to have lots of both in my kitchen (yes, that is a 3 kilo bag of Valrhona. What?), I figured I’d try it both ways.

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Paris Pastry Crawl 2013: Chocolate Mousse: Chapon

24 04 2013

rows of boxes

I knew I couldn’t do chocolate mousse month without a visit to Patrice Chapon‘s shop on the rue du Bac, because the single-origin mousse bar is pretty much the best thing to happen to chocolate mousse since, well, ever.

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Paris Pastry Crawl 2013: Chocolate Mousse Omnibus

9 04 2013

Perhaps I was a touch ambitious with my plans for the Paris Pastry Crawl. Eating all that pastry is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for people who are used to working in kitchens but now find themselves leading a much more sedentary lifestyle, nor is it for people who are trying to write their own baking books and therefore need to be baking and recipe testing (read: eating) at home, nor is it for anyone who can’t afford to replace her entire wardrobe with bigger clothes. Which is not to say I’m quitting.  But I think the monthly format might be a bit too much, despite my slowly increasing jogging and yoga habits.

I had wanted to talk about chocolate mousse for February, because of Valentine’s Day, but I think I was a little pastried out, and then that holiday came and went, and a few others, and here I am, two months later, finally ready to write about this incredibly versatile dessert.

You see, chocolate mousse is rarely seen as a stand-alone dessert in Parisian pastry shops. (It’s a different story in restaurants.) But it plays an important role in many of the elaborate tarts and cakes for which French pâtisseries are known. The one where I used to work, for example, had at least five different chocolate mousse recipes – not counting the milk and white variations – all with specific destinies as parts of various entremets. But we’ll talk about recipes another day. Today we’re playing catch up with the handful of chocolate mousse-based treats I’ve eaten over the last few months.

swoops of mousse

I wasn’t too impressed with Laurent Duchêne’s éclairs, but this chocolate-caramel tart went some way towards redeeming his work. The artful swoop of mild, smooth milk chocolate mousse concealed a filling of gooey caramel, cooked nice and dark, just like I like it. The crust was firm and crisp, but didn’t bring much chocolate flavor to the party. At 4.50, it’s one of the more expensive pastries in Duchêne’s shop, but still very reasonably priced.

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Paris Pastry Crawl 2013: Éclairs: La Pâtisserie des Rêves

23 01 2013

And with nearly three-quarters of the vote, Paris Pastry Crawl is the undisputed winner!  Thank you all for voting, and now, let the gluttony commence.  We’re going to start off the series with the éclair, quite possibly the most iconic of all French pastries, and certainly the first I was familiar with, thanks to a francophile mother and the Beaverton Bakery (hey!  they’re still around!), where she used to take me and my brother after school for a treat if we’d been good… or maybe if she had a hankering herself.  Now, of course, I live in Paris, and finding an éclair doesn’t require a special trip, though sometimes it should.

anticipation...

La Pâtisserie des Rêves has been around for a few years now, but I admit I didn’t feel all that compelled to go.  Something about the bell jars covering the pastries on display just seemed so clinical.  Impersonal.  Sterile.  But just before Christmas, chef Philippe Conticini put out a gorgeous book (with an irresistible puffy cover).  Onto my Amazon wishlist it went, and what do you know? Santa Claus deemed that I had been a good girl.  Flipping through the pages, I realized that these pastries weren’t sterile at all.  The swoop of toasted meringue on the lemon tart, the overgrown rolled brioche, the opulent use of vanilla beans – this is the way I like to bake!  Obviously, a visit was now in order.

inside-out

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Fouquet

8 07 2011

France is full of things that make foreigners (and the French, too) complain.  The ample vacation time is not one of them.  I’ve been on vacation for a couple of weeks now, and I have a couple more ahead of me before I go back to work.  We’ve got some friends arriving into town this evening, and Nick has taken today off to prepare for their arrival (well, initially they were supposed to be arriving in time for a late lunch, so he’d planned to take the day off to hang out with them – we won’t go into the reasons behind the delay here) and won’t go to work the whole time they’re here.  He just admitted he has more vacation days than he can probably use.  I’m lucky in that once the vacation schedule is all sorted out, we pretty much have to stick to it – we rotate vacations so the pâtisserie can stay open all summer long – and July is my month off.

One thing that people do complain about (and rightly, I suppose) is the general tendency here to be oblivious or unconcerned about food sensitivities and allergies.  It’s getting better, but vegetarians, celiacs, and the lactose-intolerant still have extremely limited options, even in a large city like Paris.  The reason I bring it up is because one of our arriving friends is allergic to wheat.  It breaks my heart that I won’t be able to take her on a bread and pastry binge, so I posed the question to the Paris by Mouth forum (which I believe I’ve mentioned at least once before) in hopes of getting some wheat-free pointers.  As it turns out, simply asking the question made me realize I had more answers than  I thought.

Ice cream is almost always wheat-free, especially if you get it in a cup instead of a cone.  Meringues and their trendy little sisters, macarons are also generally made without wheat flour.  (It can’t hurt to ask in the shop, though, just to be sure.)  And then I hit the motherlode, so to speak: chocolate shops!  Caramels, ganaches, pralinés, pâtes de fruit, marshmallows, and many other sweet confections, all so very French, and made without any flour at all.  So you can be sure that we’ll be visiting at least one chocolatier this weekend… as if I need an excuse.

Chocolate treats at Fouquet

Several weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a tasting at Fouquet.  It’s one of Paris’ oldest continually operating chocolate shops, having opened its doors in 1852.  The original shop still exists, on rue Laffitte in the 9th arrondissement.  The company has been in the same family since the beginning of the 20th century – Frédéric Chambeau and his sister Catherine Vaz are the fifth generation of Chambeaus to run the place as it continues to grow.  They now have three locations in Paris (which you can find, along with many other tasty destinations, on my Google map) and while the house may have started out making mostly candies, which they still do, and marvelously well, they have expanded into chocolates, and we’re so much the luckier for it.

Salvatores

The only things I tasted that day that my friend won’t be able to indulge in are the “croustillants” – pictured in the top photo – thin, crisp almond cookies dipped in chocolate.  But everything else should be well within the limits, from the “salvatores” – single, perfect nuts coated in a glassy layer of crystal-clear caramel – to the jumelles, “twins” of roated hazelnuts coated in dark chocolate, to the marshmallows, about which David Lebovitz waxed rhapsodic a few weeks ago.

Chocolate-covered or plain?

Personally, I’m hard pressed to tell you whether I like them better coated in a thin layer of chocolate or unadorned.  The crisp chocolate offers a nice contrast, but the marshmallow itself is so wonderfully puffy that it’s a delight on its own as well.

Pâtes de fruits and candied fruits at Fouquet

Fouquet also make a range of candied fruits and peels (my favorite was the grapefruit, although the cherries were also excellent) and pâtes de fruit.  What’s special about their pâtes de fruit is that instead of being made in a big square and then cut, like they do at most places including where I work, they drop the still-warm jelly into a sheet of sugar, with pre-formed wells, so as to get the pleasant round shape as opposed to an industrial-looking rectangle.  The same procedure is followed for the fondant candies, of which the chocolate-covered mint ones are what Junior Mints dream of being.

But if I have to pick one favorite confection at Fouquet, it’s got to be the pralinés.  They make them the old-fashioned way, carefully caramelizing the hazelnuts and almonds before grinding them not to a paste or a powder, but to a still-crunchy mass which is then combined with a little cocoa butter or milk chocolate to help it keep its shape before being enrobed in dark or milk chocolate.  The slight crunch, the deeply toasted nuttiness, the slightly bitter edge from the caramel, these are probably the best pralinés I’ve eaten in Paris.  Really.  I like them better than Maison du Chocolat, better than Jacques Génin.

So don’t worry about me, even if I have to eschew wheat this weekend, I’ll have plenty of ways to satisfy my sweet tooth, and my friend’s, too.

On this day in 2008: Happy 4th of July! Or, Our Very First Attempts at Burgers and Potato Salad in Paris.  We were successful.

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.





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!

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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.








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