The Last Six Months, in Three Baking Projects

27 11 2012

It has been over a month since I have updated my blog. I am seized with an urge to apologize. But to whom, and to what end? If one truly creates for one’s self, why then am I so disturbed to find that my unique visitors have dwindled away practically to nothing, with a bounce rate approaching ninety-five per cent? These twin impulses—toward reckless self-regard and the approbation of others—neatly negate one another. This is the essential paradox of our time.

– From the genius New Yorker piece Le Blog de Jean-Paul Sartre, by Bill Barol

Well. I think Sartre said it better than I ever could, so I’ll leave it at that.  Existential crises notwithstanding, it’s been an interesting year.  When we last left off, I was working six days a week as the Executive Pastry Chef for Blend, one of Paris’ most highly regarded burger joints.  As of this month, I am no longer there, and next month I will be officially unemployed.  But that doesn’t mean I won’t be keeping myself busy.  I’m in the process just beginning to write a book – so far I’ve got an outline and a couple of recipes – and I’m also thinking about staging (i.e. working for free for a few weeks) in some of the best chocolateries, bakeries, and pastry shops this city has to offer.  Oh, yeah, and I’m blogging again, too.

A few things I’ve baked in the interim:

Last Spring I made these apple doughnut muffins, inspired by The Hungry Dog.  I meant to post the recipe, and then it wasn’t apple season anymore, and now I’ve decided I want to keep it for the book.  But I will share this photo.

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Over the summer, I once again had the good fortune to bake the wedding cake for two dear friends. Once again, I made cupcakes, but this time I added a small “topper” cake for the cake-cutting.  I spent three days in Celine and Jesse’s kitchen, and naturally there were a few stressful moments the day of the wedding, but in the end I was very pleased with the final cakes.  And the bride and groom seemed pretty happy, too.

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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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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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