30 March 2010

The Perfect Chocolate Éclair

If there's one thing my sister and I have a weakness for, it's cream.  Thick, luxurious, sweet heavy cream.  We've each been guilty of pouring straight heavy cream onto our morning cereal (why waste your time with milk?).  Growing up, a bowl of sliced bananas or strawberries with cream and a sprinkling of sugar was (and still is) comfort food for us both.  Whipped cream was served with so many desserts in our house that it was first 'recipe' I ever learned to make.  I have no idea how old I was at the time, but I have very distinct memories of standing on a chair pulled up to the counter and holding onto that hand mixer to make puffy clouds of sweetness from chilled cream and sugar.  Some of my favourite dessert memories are at least 50% whipped cream in fact: Pavlova - that simple but delicious Australian dessert of meringue covered in whipped cream and fruit; and that chocolate wafer icebox cake consisting of nothing more than chocolate wafers held together with whipped cream, and allowed to chill until the wafers get all soft like cookies dipped in milk.  Yep, my addiction to real cream started early, and I fear the day I should ever become lactose intolerant like our dear mom now is.

Well, if you happen to share our love of cream, then chances are you also have a weakness for all the wonderful things you can make with it - such as ice cream, crème brulée or one of my favourites,  pastry cream;  that glorious eggy, custardy filling that you find inside the Perfect Chocolate Éclair... (I can hear angels singing - do you hear it too?)

Since I first tried this recipe several years ago, I have learned a few things: 1) Pâte à Choux has about a billion uses - all of them delicious, 2) the average guy working for an oilfield services company can polish off about 6 chocolate éclairs without feeling so much as an ounce of guilt, and 3) almost all of the éclairs I had eaten in my life up to that point, were clearly made with crappy vanilla pudding mix.  That's right, the powdered foods I create food from these days are flour, sugar, cocoa and the like.  (which is why I have proudly joined the ranks of fellow bakers and bloggers on Baked From Scratch - a great little list headed up by Sugadeaux Cupcakes from Australia, who also happens to have the snazziest profile pic I think I have ever seen).  That's also why you see the cool new badge on your left.

So I'm sharing my recipe with you all... I hope that you will give it a try at least once, just to see what you are really missing when you take the easy route and use a powdered mix.  I don't know a person on this planet who's mouth starts watering when they read this sign.

The Perfect Chocolate Éclair (I hear angels again!)

REAL Pastry Cream
300 ml heavy cream
180 ml milk
5 egg yolks
100g sugar 
1/4 tsp salt
30g cornstarch
2 tsp vanilla
60g cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

Pâte à Choux
125 ml milk
125 ml water
125g unsalted butter
4g salt
140g all-purpose flour
4 large eggs (at room temperature)

Chocolate Ganache
(instead of making a super sweet glaze, I just use ganache.  Sure it may be a little bit messier to eat the finished product, but I have never heard anyone complain about it - they're too busy licking their fingers)
280 ml heavy cream
300g dark chocolate, chopped
1 tsp vanilla


REAL Pastry Cream
In a large saucepan, heat the cream, milk, salt and 85g of the sugar over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture just begins to simmer and remove from heat
In the bowl of a standing mixer, mix the egg yolks, cornstarch and remaining 15g of sugar, and whisk on medium-high speed until the mixture becomes thick and pale yellow.
With the mixer on low speed pour 1/2 of the cream into the yolk mixture in a slow, steady stream.  Be careful not to add the cream too quickly or you'll end up with scrambled eggs - not exactly the desired effect.  Once the eggs are tempered, pour the mixture back into the saucepan, and place over medium low heat.  Gently but continuously whisk the mixture until it thickens and begins to bubble.  If using an instant-read thermometer, the temperature should read between 175˚ and 180˚F.  Remove the pan from heat and whisk the butter into the custard, one piece at a time.  Finally, whisk in the vanilla and sieve the mixture through a mesh strainer into a medium bowl.  Cover the pastry cream by pressing a sheet of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal.  Place in the refrigerator to cool.

Chocolate Ganache
Heat the cream in a medium bowl in the microwave for about 1 minute, but take care not to allow it to boil.  Add the chopped chocolate and allow it to sit for about 5 minutes.  Slowly and gently stir the chocolate and cream until the mixture becomes thick and glossy.  Stir in the vanilla and set aside to col to room temperature.

Pâte à Choux
Preheat the oven to 425˚ and adjust the racks to divide the oven into thirds.  Prepare two baking sheets lined with parchment paper.  Spray a bit of non-stick spray under the parchment to keep it in place.
Place the milk, water and butter into a small saucepan and heat over medium heat.  Once the butter has completely melted, add in the flour and stir vigorously, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the dough is well mixed and resembles the texture of wet sand.  Place the dough into the bowl of a food processor (or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment).  Turn the food processor on to cool the mixture  for a couple of minutes.  With the processor running, add the eggs, one at a time, through the feed tube.  Scrape down the bowl if necessary, and continue to process until the dough becomes thick and glossy.  Scrape the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip and pipe into evenly-sized large dots or long lines, spacing about 1 1/2 inches of space apart.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the choux are puffed and golden brown.   Remove from oven and, using a sharp knife, skewer or toothpick, quickly pierce each pastry and return them to the oven.  With the oven turned off and the door propped ajar, allow the choux to dry for 30-40 minutes.

Once dry, fill a medium pastry bag, fitted with a small round tip, with the pastry cream.  Gently pierce the choux pastry to create a small hole.   Insert the pastry bag tip into the hole and gently squeeze to fill the choux with pastry cream.  Careful not to over-fill the choux, or it will ooze back out.  Once all the choux have been filled, dip one side of the pastry into the luke-warm ganache and place on a tray or baking sheet.  The éclairs can be chilled for about an hour in the fridge, or served immediately at room temperature.

I would advise on how to store the éclairs, but I've never had the chance to.  All I've ever had to do is wash some chocolate streaks off the serving plate.

28 March 2010

Julia's Spiced "is there any more?" Apple Pie

We were heading over to the in-law's for a games night last night, so I decided I should bring some desserty-type thing for a treat (ok, so it's not the first time, I'm sure it won't be the last).  But with the early onset of les printemps here in Edmonton, I am craving fruit - and lots of it.  Sure, none of it is local at this time of year - (yes I would completely fail at being a locavore, but I'd like to see a Canadian successfully pull that off living in Northern Alberta in the winter - come on!) but it's fruit just the same.  So I loaded up a bag full of Ambrosia Apples from BC and headed home to make some apple pie.... yum!

This was one of my recipe-less days, so I kind of threw everything but the kitchen sink in with my peeled and cored apple chunks, and I really could not be more pleased with the results. The
'tasting panel' reviews were decent enough, though they were mostly mumbled through a mouthful of apple; "this is great pie - what's in this?", so thank goodness I kept notes while I was haphazardly tossing ingredients into the bowl (whew!).  With a sauce that has a wonderfully spiced flavour to it, along with the brown sugar and sour cream, which combine to make a light caramel sauce...this pie will definitely be kept in my files for future use!

For starters, I threw some extra sugar and cinnamon into the pie pastry dough itself - just to add some personality, which turned out to be an excellent pairing for the obvious apple pie filling - so even if you have a favourite apple pie filling that you prefer over mine, that's fine, my feelings aren't hurt *sniff* -  I highly recommend you at least spice up your crust.  I did my usual press-into-pan method of making my crusts, because otherwise I seem to always end up with shrinky-dink pie shells, and that just makes me mad (for my international readers, "shrinky-dink" is not a swear - it's crafty fun from my childhood!  Don't believe me?  Then check this out...).

Because I was multi-tasking and making dinner and dessert at the same time, the apples ended up marinating in the spices for a good 30-40 minutes while we ate.  This turned out to be a great thing, as the flavours really married well before I pre-cooked the filling on the stove - just enough to take a bit of the crispness out of the apples, but not enough to make it mushy.  Then it was a simple matter of filling my chilled individual sized pie crusts with the filling, add a cute little lattice top, into the oven for 15 minutes and voilà!  Spicy Apple Pie was born!  To compliment the flavours of the pie, I served it with a nice big puff of whipped cream, which I whipped with a dash of vanilla, a sprinkling of sugar and a generous tablespoon on sour cream.  Sure it may sound a bit odd, but it worked well, so I stand by it - think of it as crème fraiche for beginners.  After all, I'm a girl who like her desserts to taste of something besides just sugar - bring on the flavour please!  Sweet is not a flavour, and there is nothing more disappointing to me than tasting some gorgeous looking dessert and finding it tastes of nothing but tooth-achingly sweet sugar.  Now, if you happen to be a fan of tooth aches, then feel free to add a bunch more sugar than I did, but don't blame me when your dentist buys a new sportscar or yacht.

One final note: Ambrosia apples are a relatively sweet apple, feel free to use a firm-fleshed apple of your choosing.  If you are using a tart apple, like Granny Smith, you may want to cut down the amount of lemon juice a bit.  I would love to try this pie with Fuji apples, but sadly I could not find any - next time!

Here you have it - Julia's Spicy Apple Pie.  I'd love to hear comments and constructive critiques from any of you who decided to give this recipe a test-drive in your own kitchens.

Happy Baking!

Julia's Spicy Apple Pie

Cinnamon Sugar Pie Dough
1 1/2 Cups (156g) All-Purpose Flour
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp (20g) sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (113g) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
3-5 Tbsp ice water

Spicy Apple Filling
5 medium apples
Juice from 1 small lemon (about 1-2 Tbsp)
2 Tbsp candied ginger, minced
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground pepper
1/8 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp vanilla extract
87g brown sugar (1/3 Cup + 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp)  - can we all get on the metric system now please?!?
3 Tbsp (45g) sour cream

Soured Chantilly Cream
2/3 Cup (63ml) heavy cream
1 heaping Tbsp sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp sugar

Preheat oven to 425˚F and move rack to centre position.  Peel, core & chop apples into small cubes and place them in a large bowl.  Pour lemon juice over apples, then add all dry spices and candied ginger to apples.  Toss all ingredients together well and set aside for 30-40 minutes at room temperature.

In a food processor, combine flour, salt, sugar and cinnamon. Add in the butter pieces, and using short 1-second pulses, cut in the butter until the largest pieces are about the size of large peas.  Add the ice water through the feed tube and pulse just until the dough comes together.  Stop the machine and feel the dough - it should hold together when squeezed in your hand. If the dough feels too dry, add a bit more ice water.  Be careful not to add too much water, as this makes for a tough crust.  Press or roll out pastry into pie or tart pan of your choosing, reserving about 1/3 of the dough for lattice tops.  Place the prepared pie shells into the fridge to chill.  Roll out the reserved dough and cut into strips for the lattice - place in the fridge to chill.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Once the foaming has subsided, add the seasoned apple mixture and any accumulated juices to the pan and saute over medium to medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the apples are starting to soften, but still have some bite to them.  Add the vanilla extract to deglaze the pan and scrape up all the brown bits.  Then add the brown sugar, stirring to combine well. The brown sugar should melt fairly quickly.  As soon as the sugar has melted, stir in the sour cream and remove pan from heat.

Spoon filling into the chilled pie shell, cover with the lattice strips, and immediately place into the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the crust is fully baked and golden brown.  Remove from oven and cool for about 20-30 minutes, or longer if you prefer.  Serve either at room temperature or warm, with cream topping of your choice: ice cream, whipped cream, crème fraiche or Soured Chantilly Cream:

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, mix together the heavy cream and sour cream.  Whip on medium speed for about 1 minute to combine well.  Increase speed to high for about 30 seconds, then add in the vanilla and sugar.  Continue to beat on high, until the cream hold soft peaks.  Refrigerate until needed.

25 March 2010

Blue Corn Bread with Orange Agave Butter

Recently I was strolling through the aisles of Planet Organic, one of the specialty organic stores in town.  It's an interesting place to go for unique and hard to find ingredients such as cocoa nibs or agave syrup, but also for inspiration, not to mention all of the top-notch organic produce.  One thing I happened upon last trip was some Blue Cornmeal.  Hmmm... interesting.  The package says it is interchangeable with yellow cornmeal - so I thought I'd pick up a package and see how it fared in a simple cornbread, perhaps even do a side-by-side taste comparison.  Well, this morning, after a full week of serious baking and blogging withdrawal, I decided to break out the mixing bowls and whip up some cornbread for a morning snack.

In every aspect of the recipe, it certainly acts and feels and looks like just regular cornmeal, aside from the pale grey-ish blue colour of course.  I made a batch of yellow cornbread at the same time, so all the other ingredients, the bake temperature and time are all the same for both batches.  Interestingly enough, the blue cornbread rose a bit higher than the yellow during baking, but the golden brown crust looks less than appealing on blue bread (blue and brown are not always good together... at least not in food).  The finished products did have a couple of noticeable differences;  interestingly enough, the blue cornbread rose higher than the yellow, and although the taste is only very slightly different between the two, the blue cornbread had a noticeably different texture.  It was almost crunchier, as if the cornmeal itself was a coarser grind than the regular yellow stuff.

So, as usual, I sent off a plate of goodies to hubby's office, as well as my office, to see what the tasters thought.  The results were almost completely opposite to what I expected.  Since I work in the petroleum industry, I encounter a lot of people who sometimes balk at new and unusual things.  Hubby, on the other hand, works with a very eclectic bunch of pretty artistic and creative folks, and just about all of them will try something once.  Well, even the visitors from Houston that were at my office didn't seem at all phased by blue cornbread (perhaps it's because of the TexMex thing, blue corn's not all that strange to them), and seemed to like it just fine.  Hubby reported back that the blue cornbread went last, and several people commented on being a tad put off by the colour.  Sure, there are very few naturally blue foods in our world (and no, I don't think blueberries count - just squish one and tell me what colour you see), so apparently this particular shade conjures up images of funky mold on bread... not exactly the response a chef wants when people see their food.

As for the Orange Agave Butter, it was a smash hit.  Compound butters are incredibly easy to make, yet it seems we rarely see them - one exception would be at Normand's restaurant.  For years, we have been dining at this fantastic French restaurant, and every time we've gone, our basket of bread has been accompanied by a different compound butter - in fact, I don't think we've ever been served the same butter twice.  Last week, we had a basil-roasted red pepper butter that had a nice little kick of heat to it, but I remember one Valentine's dinner when they featured a cinnamon butter.  Flavoured butters add a lot of personality and sophistication to a meal, almost immediately elevating the whole meal from 'good' to 'gourmet', with so very little effort.  Simply take some room-temperature unsalted butter, and add it a generous helping of herbs, spices or seasonings and mix.  Voilà!  I had a couple of oranges tempting me from their bowl on the counter, so I grabbed my microplane zester and grated the orange clean, until I was left with a naked, pithy orange and a bowl full of fragrant zest, perfuming the entire kitchen.  I mixed in a nice big piece of butter and added a few drops of agave nectar for sweetness (agave with cornbread seemed to be an obvious pairing).  Wrap that in plastic and put it in the fridge so the flavours can fully marry with the butter - a couple of hours or even overnight.  Spread that on some nice warm cornbread and you will be rewarded with a wonderfully citrus-y treat that will have you searching for different food to spread it on (like toast, or scones, or muffins, or hot cross buns, or...).

So now the only question is; what am I going to do with the rest of that bag of blue cornmeal?

Cornbread (adapted from Cook's Illustrated The Best Recipe)

1 Cup (  g) cornmeal
1 Cup (142g) all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 tsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
2/3 Cup (160 ml) buttermilk
2/3 Cup (160 ml) milk
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted, plus extra softened butter for greasing the pan

Preheat oven to 425°F and place rack in the centre position.  Grease a 9x9 baking pan and set aside.
Stir cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt in a large bowl.  Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients.
Crack the eggs into the well, and gently stir with a wooden spoon, then add in the buttermilk and milk.  Quickly stir together the wet and dry ingredients until almost combined, then mix in the melted butter.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the top is golden brown, lightly cracked and the edges have pulled away from the sides of the pan.
Transfer the cornbread to a cooling rack, and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Orange Agave Butter

Finely grated zest from 1 medium orange
4 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/8 tsp agave nectar

Mix all ingredients together until well combined.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-24 hours before using.

13 March 2010

Happy Pie Day!

23 eggs
1.6 kg of butter
7 lemons
400 g of chocolate
800 g of Saskatoons
600 g Nutella
1.2 kg flour
500 g sugar
14 pies for Pi Day

(for those of you questioning my sanity, you're not alone...)

Pi Day is finally here!  Yes, it is officially a day observed by math geeks around the world (I use the term "geek" with nothing but affection - I consider myself to be a food geek), but I don't see any reason why a lousy "e" should keep me from observing the day in my own way.  Interestingly enough there is an actual National Pie Day in the US, on January 23rd (raise your hand if you missed it, too), as declared by the American Pie Council (raise your hand again, if you didn't know there was an American Pie Council).  Well, I'm a Canadian girl and in Canada we don't have a national pie council to speak of, so, just as we celebrate our Thanksgiving in October instead of November like our neighbours to the south, I figure Canadian Pie Day should be March 14th.  Any objections?  No...?  Alrighty then, I hereby declare March 14th as Canadian Pie Day.  But whatever your nationality, you're invited to celebrate along with us.

So in honour of 3.14, I baked a variety of pie shells in many sizes; treats to package up and give to friends and co-workers.  Ironically enough, I ended up with a total of 14 pie shells, so I thought it only fitting that I make 3 types of pie; Nutella Tart,  a Lemon Meringue (hubby's favourite) and Saskatoon Pie.   The Nutella Tart is a recipe I've had my eye on for a while - ever since I bought my copy of Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé, written by Dorie Greenspan.  The idea of an entire tart with the taste of chocolate and hazelnuts had my mouth watering as soon as I turned the page, and as luck would have it, I had a nice big jar of Nutella in my pantry.

For the Lemon Meringue pie, I decided to switch things up a bit after thumbing through Dorie Greenspan's Baking.  If you've ever been disappointed by a store-bought lemon meringue pie that was nothing but rubbery meringue covering a transluscent, but tasteless yellow gelatine, then this is the lemon pie recipe you've always dreamed of.  "The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart" is nothing short of lemon luxury.  She writes about Pierre Hermé's Lemon Cream - his take on the traditional lemon curd most of us know and love.  I was intrigued by her description of the taste as well as the preparation method, and decided this was the perfect opportunity to test drive it.  Well, let me put it this way;  I made one batch of lemon cream (enough for a 23 cm/9 inch tart shell), and after licking the spoon completely clean, immediately whipped up a second batch.  It is deliciously light and super lemon-y.  I still decided to top a few of the smaller tarts with meringue, and leave a couple of them unadorned.  I'm interested to see which one everyone prefers.

Finally, I happened to have a couple of bags of Saskatoons in the freezer from my trip to the u-pick berry farm last summer, which is great, since we are many months away from this year's harvest.  If you've never had Saskatoons, you're not alone; they're indigenous to western Canada, and nearly impossible to find outside that area; even my uncle in Toronto, tells me how much he misses Saskatoon pie every summer.  They have a wonderful and very unique taste to them, not really like any other fruit; mildly tart, reminiscent of purple grapes, but with a distinctive almond aftertaste.  They're very similar in appearance to blueberries, but have a chewier texture.  Ultimately, they're delicious and very popular in the summertime; jams, pies, ice cream, syrup, smoothies, even sparkling wine are made using these unique berries.  If you ever find yourself in the Canadian Prairies in late summer, you shouldn't have trouble finding something saskatoon.

Saturday, I spent making batch after batch of pie pastry and blind-baking an assortment of sizes and shapes of shells to fill with these tasty fillings.  Even in their naked state, the smell of flour & butter baked into golden shells filled the entire house with their fragrance; a fragrance I happen to love.  I also dove right into making the Lemon Cream, since it needs to chill and be poured into the shells right before serving.  Sunday morning I woke up to the lingering smell of bright, juicy lemons, so I donned my apron and got to work combining berries with sugar, lemon juice and just a hint of cardamom, and mixing bowls of melted chocolate with so much melted butter it should be illegal (seriously, don't even read the recipe if you're on a diet).  By the time hubby got out of bed for breakfast, there was no room to eat at the kitchen table; it was covered with desserts, cookbooks, camera and laptop.  We carefully reconfigured everything to allow enough room for coffee cups and a backgammon board so I could take a little break and enjoy a bit of the morning with him, before getting back to my sugary witchcraft.

All that's left to do now is wrap up all the goodies and get them the heck out of my house - save for 1 medium lemon cream tart, 1 small saskatoon pie, and 1 mini nutella tartlette.... after all this work, I should at least get a taste.

Here are the recipes:
Pâte Brisée (Flaky Tart Pastry) from In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley
makes enough pastry for one 10-11 inch tart shell

1 1/2 Cups (156g) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 Cup (113g) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3-5 Tbsp (45-75ml) ice water

In a food processor, combine flour, salt & sugar.  Add the butter and using short pulses, cut in butter until the largest pieces are about the size of large peas.  Add the ice water through the feed tube, and pulse just until the dough comes together.  Stop the machine and feel the dough - it should hold together well when squeezed.  Add a little more water if dough feels too dry.  Be careful not to add too much water - or you'll end up with tough pastry.

Editor's note: Although it is recommended to press this into a disk, wrap and refrigerate before rolling out and placing in tart pan, I seem to have intermittent luck with shrinking pie dough.  So, I immediately press this dough directly into the tart pan, starting with the edges, and then fill in the bottom and smooth out the base by covering it with parchment paper and then running the flat side of my meat pounder over it.  Works every time.

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Line cover tart pastry with parchment paper and fill with pie weights.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the edges are just starting to colour and the bottom is starting to bake.  Remove weights and parchment and continue to bake for 10-12 minutes longer for a completely baked shell.

Nutella Tart from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé, written by Dorie Greenspan
makes one 9-inch tart

one pre-baked tart shell
2/3 Cup (200g) Nutella
400g dark chocolate, chopped
7 Tbsp (200g) unsalted butter
1 large egg, at room temperature and stirred with a fork
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature and stirred with a fork
2 Tbsp (30g) sugar
1 Cup (140g) hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and cut into large pieces

Centre a rack in the oven and preheat to 375°F.
Spread the Nutella evenly over the bottom of the tart crust and set aside while you make the ganache.
Melt the chocolate and the butter, each in separate bowls - either using a double-boiler or a microwave oven.  Allow them each to cool until they feel just warm to the touch (140°F on an instant-read thermometer is perfect)
Using a small whisk or rubber spatula, stir the egg into the chocolate, stirring gently in ever-widening circles and taking care not to beat any air into the ganache.  Little by little, stir in the egg yolks, and then the sugar.  Finally, still working gently, stir in the melted butter.  Pour the ganache over the Nutella in the tart shell.  Scatter the hazelnut pieces over the top.
Bake the tart for 11 minutes - that should be just enough time to turn the top of the tart dull, like the top of a cake.  The centre will shimmy if jiggled - that's just what it's supposed to do.  Transfer the tart to a cooling rack and allow it to cool for at least 20 minutes or until it reaches room temperature - the best temperature at which to serve it.

Lemon Cream from Baking by Dorie Greenspan
page 331, "The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart"(I consider this to be a understatement by Ms. Greenspan)

1 pre-baked 9-inch tart shell
1 Cup (201g) sugar
grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 Cup (180ml) fresh lemon juice (4-5 lemons)
2 sticks plus 5 Tbsp (299g) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces

Have an instant-read thermometer, a strainer and blender (preferred) or food processor at hand.  Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan.
Put the sugar and the zest in a large, heatproof bowl that can be set over the pan of simmering water.  Off the heat, rub the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic.  Whisk in the eggs, followed by the lemon juice.
Set the bowl over the saucepan and start stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture feels tepid to the touch - you must whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling - you'll see that the mixture starts out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger, and then, as it gets closer to 180°F, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks.  Heads up at this point - the tracks mean the cream is almost ready.  Don't stop whisking or checking the temperature, and have patience - depending on how much heat you're giving the cream, getting to 180°F can take as long as 10 minutes.
As soon as it reaches 180°F, remove the cream from heat and strain it into the container of the blender (or bowl of the food processor); discard the zest.  Let the cream stand, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140°F, about 10 minutes.
Turn the blender to high (or turn on the food processor) and, with the machine running, add the butter about 5 pieces at a time.  Scrape down the sides of the container as needed, as you incorporate the butter.  Once the butter has all been added, keep the machine going - to get the light, airy texture of lemon-cream dreams, you must continue to blend the cream for another 3 minutes.  If your machine protests and it gets too hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving the machine a little rest between beats.
Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.  The cream will keep in the fridge up to 4 days  (HA! Not once you taste it, it won't!)
When you are ready to assemble the tart, just whisk the cream to loosen it and spoon it into the tart shell. Serve the tart immediately or chill until needed.

Saskatoon Pie
makes 1 deep-crust pie or 2 open-faced tarts

pre-baked pie or tart shell
6 Cups (750g) Saskatoons (thawed if frozen)
1 Cup less 1 Tbsp (185g) sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
3 Tbsp Minit Tapioca
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
2 tsp unsalted butter, room temperature

Preheat oven to 375°F and place rack in centre of oven.
In a large bowl, combine the berries with sugar, salt, lemon juice, zest, tapioca and cardamom.  Mix well until juices start to dissolve the sugar.  Don't be afraid to crush a few of the berries for a better texture in the pie.
Fill the tart shell with a heaping mound of the mixture (the berries will shrink considerably during baking).  Dot with butter, and bake for 25-35 minutes, until the berry mixture is bubbling.  Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool for 30 minutes to an hour.  Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, or at room temperature with fresh whipped cream, lightly sweetened.
If you prefer a covered pie, fill the pre-baked pie shell with the berry mixture, top with second layer of pastry - either latticed, or vented to allow steam to escape.  Brush top crust with a beaten egg, and sprinkle lightly with sugar before baking.  Bake until crust is golden brown.  Cool and serve as above.

10 March 2010

Canelés au Chocolat de François Payard

I'm new to the food-blogging scene, having just started in January of this year.  I would often sit for hours on my computer and read the incredible food blogs of folks like David Lebovitz, Clotilde at Chocolate & Zucchini, or Fanny over at Foodbeam.  Sure I would daydream about having a blog of my own, but I've never considered myself much of a writer, and could tell that there was a lot of time and energy that went into the postings on all those blogs - so I pretty much dismissed the whole idea.  On top of that, there are only, like about eleventy-nine billlion food blogs floating around the internet - why would anyone want to read mine?  Well, my darling sis, who knows me better than anyone on the planet, ignored my protests and lame excuses and gave me the nudge (or kick in the pants)  I needed to get my butt in gear and at least give it a try.  She must have known then that I would absolutely love it, and become just a tad addicted to the whole thing.

Doing this blog has really changed my life in a way.  It has replaced the creativity that I miss from my floral design days - even though it was really hard work (much harder than most people imagine - those people who used to come up to us at the shop on a busy day and say "it must be fun to sit and play with flowers all day"... keep talking lady, and I'll stab you with my little knife), I was creating beautiful things every day.  Now I spend my days sitting on my bum, in front of a computer, working on a spreadsheet or organizing meetings or babysitting grown men - a sad but true reality.  I no longer have that creative outlet each and every day (unless you count daydreaming of a life in France, or brainstorming about what to make for dinner), and while the money is certainly better and my hands aren't constantly stained, bleeding or covered in bandages, that outlet was something that I needed - perhaps more that I even thought.

So she's created a monster, and I find myself constantly thinking of what to cook and write about next.  In order to help channel my creativity and meet new friends who are food-obsessed as I am, I've joined up with a few food-challenge groups.  My first challenge with the fabulous gals at MacTweets was so much fun, I can hardly believe it.  Since I had so much fun with that, I decided to get on board with the Daring Bakers (though I don't have a challenge yet until next month), the Nutella Challenge and last but not least, Chocolate with François, where we bake our way through Chocolate Epiphany by François Payard, where this month we are baking the Chocolate Canelés on page 47.

I have to admit, I have seen canelés many times when I was in France, but I've never tasted one.  There's always **so many** incredible pastries crying out to be eaten that the relatively plain-jane looking canelés get nary a second glance - not when there is some showy Ispahan or tarte framboise sitting there, beaming at you in all their hot-pink glory.  This was the perfect opportunity to finally get to know this traditional French pastry.  Reading the recipe, I was immediately struck by both the simplicity of the recipe and the quirkiness of the baking process.  These are not a whip-them-up-for-unexpected-guests kind of treat - you have to plan for these.  The batter is simple and quick enough in itself, but then you have to refrigerate and rest the batter for at least 24 hours before you bake them, and once you're finally ready to bake and have heated your oven and filled the molds, M.Payard recommends that you let the batter rest once more, for about 30 minutes, "this allows the flour to settle to the bottom, so the canelés won't rise during baking".  On top of that, for relatively small treats, they bake for an incredibly long time at a frighteningly high temperature - almost like a Yorkshire Pudding which, ironically, is what they do remind me of.  Crisp and chewy on the outside, custardy on the inside, they are quite delicious, and I can easily see how they would be popular... assuming, that is, that I did it right.  Since I've never tasted one, I have no idea if my attempt was success or failure.  Oddly comforting; this idea of not knowing what they should be like, so as long as you don't hate them when they're done, you can pretty much assume you didn't screw it up!

In eager anticipation of my baking task, I set out on Saturday to buy myself a nice canelé mold.  For something I've never seen sold in bakeries here, I had, oddly enough, seen their molds around town many times.  Until, that is, I needed one.  Nope, not one - anywhere.  I got plenty of blank stares from the teenaged part-timers in every kitchenware shop in town though, so it wasn't a total loss - HA!  So I improvised, and bought a NordicWare mold I've had my eye on for a while now, because of the size and variety of shapes that it bakes.  If my canelés were a flop, I could still use the mold for about 100 other things.  So, home I went, to mix my batter and wait....

Sunday morning, I pre-heated my oven and the mold along with it, sprayed and filled each tiny little mold and then waited - for 30 whole minutes - before baking them.  Because my mold makes cakes that are considerably smaller than the original product, I decided to shave down the cooking time, in effort to avoid burning.  Problem is, though, if you've never had one or baked one, how the hell do you know if it's actually done?  Especially when you're foolish enough to improvise with a teeny-tiny mold that was not meant for the food you are baking in the first place - sure they'll be adorable when they're done, but cute and burnt is not one one is generally aiming for in their baking.... I checked them at 30 minutes to see if they were "crisp and set, and spring back when touched lightly"; hmmmm, set? yes.  spring back? yup.  Crisp? hmmmm....sort of, I guess.  I removed one from it's mold and let it cool on the counter while I slid the rest of them back into the oven for another 10 minutes.  When I finally removed them from the oven and tasted them side by side, I preferred the 30 minute one;  it was more "crisp", but with a very lava-cake type centre, whereas the 40 minute one was more "chewy" in a tough sort of way, but not necessarily any more cooked at the core.  Again - I'm a canelé virgin here, so how the heck do I know which one is closer to the real deal?  I've got no choice but to follow my gut on this one...

So here you have it, the recipe as it is in M. Payard's fabulous book.  Give it a try and let me know what you think - I'd love some feedback!

Happy Baking!

Chocolate Canelés, from Chocolate Epiphany by François Payard

3 oz, (90 g) dark chocolate (72%) chopped
2 Cups (500 ml) whole milk
4 Tbsp (60 g) unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3/4 Cup plus 2 Tbsp (90 g) all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp (14g) cocoa powder
2/3 Cup plus 1/4 Cup (180 g) sugar
pinch of salt
1 large egg
3 large egg yolks
3 Tbsp (40 g) dark rum or Armagnac
vegetable cooking spray, for the molds

Make the batter:  put the chocolate in a medium bowl.  Put the milk and butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, and scrape he seeds from the vanilla bean into the pan (reserve the pod for use in another recipe).  Scald the mixture, removing the pan from the heat when small bubbles form at the edges.  Pour the mixture over the chocolate and whisk until the chocolate is melted.
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar and salt over a medium bowl.  Combine the egg, egg yolks and rum and whisk until the mixture is smooth.  Slowly whisk the egg mixture into the dry ingredients.  If you go too fast, lumps will form.  Slowly whisk in the chocolate mixture, whisking until the mixture is smooth.  Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight or for up to 4 days

Bake the canelés: place a rack in the centre of the oven and preheat them to 400ºF.
If using copper molds, heat them in the oven for 10 minutes or until they are hot.  This step is not necessary of using silicone molds.
Spray the molds with vegetable cooking spray, doing so more generously of using cooper molds.  If using silicone molds, arrange them on a baking sheet. Stir the batter, and transfer to a large measuring cup or pitcher if desired, which will make it easier to pour the batter into the molds.  Fill the molds almost to the top and let the batter rest for 30 minutes.  This allows the flour to settle to the bottom, so the canelés won't rise during baking.
Bake for 60-75 minutes, until the exterior of the canelés is crisp and set, and springs back when you lightly touch the top.
Remove the molds from the oven and turn them over onto a wire cooling rack.  Let the canelés cool in the molds, which keeps them from shrinking and becoming dense.  When cool, unmold them, and keep them in an airtight container.

09 March 2010

Pie Day! (whoops - that should be Pi Day)

Alright folks - this Sunday will be Pi Day (3.14), sure it's more an occasion for math geeks, but hey, the only thing keeping us foodies from jumping on board that bandwagon is one lousy "e".  So, the question is... whatcha making for Pie Day?

For me, I'm thinking along these lines..... Shall we all meet back here on Sunday to show off what we made?  It's a date!

Happy baking :-)

08 March 2010

There's veggies in them - they've got to be good for you!

Growing up in Canada during the 70's, Carrot Cake is one of those things that we were treated to every now and again.  Even today, it seems to be one of those things that often pops up at family events and birthdays and office parties everywhere.  The problem is, they're not usually very memorable.  Still, most people like it, which is why I included it the "wedding cake buffet" I made for my sister-in-law's wedding a couple of years ago.  

My extraordinarily talented sister-in-law loves my baking, and she is of the opinion that I must have sold my soul to the devil in exchange for my baking skills (as part of the contract, I am never allowed to confirm nor deny this theory).  As a result, she has often asked if I would mind baking/catering a fundraiser or gig she is hosting, and I've always been so flattered that I can't possibly say no.  So, when she was planning her wedding, I knew for certain I'd be doing her flowers, but I was surprised and even more flattered that she wanted me to make her cake.  While I always aim to make my desserts and cakes as aesthetically pleasing as possible, for me, taste is paramount, so the idea of making a wedding cake was more than a little intimidating (I just don't seem to have the patience for cake decorating - but it's still on my list of skills to learn).  She did, however, give me an out - she didn't want a towering white fancy cake, in fact she didn't even care what flavour of cake she wanted - she just wanted me to make whatever I felt like making, maybe two or three types of cakes, but enough to feed everyone at their small reception.  Well that "small" reception was well over 100 people, but I soon decided that creating a wedding cake buffet would be fun.  Now I may be a little crazy (that theory has been floating around for years actually), but to take on creating wedding flowers (for bride, three bridesmaids, three flower girls, plus corsages and boutonnieres for the groom, his guys plus moms & dads involved) - in addition to baking **7** desserts, all while holding down a full-time job.  Ya, a little nuts I may have been, but the happy couple deserved a beautiful wedding, and I was happy to work my butt off to help them have that.

Two full weekends, plus every evening, I spent doing as much prep work as I could, to make sure everything would go as smoothly as possible.  Though I was still decorating and assembling, right up until the very last possible second when I had to deliver the cakes, drive to the ceremony & get myself presentable.  Just seeing her face when she walked through the door at the reception space and hearing her gasp when she saw the desserts made it worth every minute.  Every gal who's ever had even a small wedding knows that you have so much to deal with the last few weeks before the big day that you can't even think straight, so when she gave me her trust to make something great for dessert, I didn't involve her after that - so in a way it was a bit of a surprise.  I even managed to make a small, two-tiered ivory cake, decorated as best I could, so they could have something to cut into.  She was so happy, when dinner was over & she announced that dessert was served, she went so far as to get behind the table and serve the line-up of guests, white dress, veil and all - giggling the whole time.  I would do it again for them in a heartbeat.

Chocolate Mousse Cake
Coconut Cake with Chocolate Sauce 
Almond Raspberry Cake
Gingerbread Cake with Warm Caramel Sauce
Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Mousse Icing
Spiced Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Icing

Now, I'd never made a croquembouche before that day (am I crazy?  foolish? both?  it's a toss up), so it ended up being drizzled with chocolate instead of spun sugar, and for my first-ever "tiered" cake, I dove in and made gumpaste dogwood flowers, which turned out as good as I could have hoped.  Everything else, though was from my repertoire, and at the end of the night, there was nothing left but as assortment of dirty cakeplates.  HUGE ego boost for the me - the girl who couldn't really cook, let alone bake, when I first moved in with her brother 15 years ago.

Today, on occasion, I still make the carrot cake, sometimes as cupcakes, sometimes as a regular cake.  Either way, it's still always a huge hit.  It is moist, memorable and has a lot of taste and personality due to the cardamom and black pepper.  As for the icing - it is hands down, the best cream cheese Icing I have ever tasted, and you can easily change it up a bit with lemon or orange zest for a little variety.  I got the recipe from Cook's Illustrated, and it has never failed.  Enjoy.

Spiced Carrot Cake with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Icing
Carrot Cake
2 ½ Cups (355 g) all-purpose flour
1 ¼ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp salt
1 lb (454 g) medium carrots, trimmed & peeled
1 ½ Cups (301 g) granulated sugar
½ Cup (100 g) light brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 ½ Cups (320 ml) vegetable oil

Cream Cheese Frosting
2 vanilla beans (or substitute with vanilla bean paste)
250 g cream cheese at room temperature
5 Tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
1 Tbsp sour cream
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 ¼ Cups (143 g) confectioner’s sugar

For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350F and move rack to centre position. Prepare baking pan (9x13, 2 round cake pans, or muffin pan) with non-stick cooking spray and parchment paper; set aside.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, pepper, cardamom, cloves, and salt in large bowl; set aside.

In food processor fitted with large shredding disk, shred carrots (you should have about 3 cups); transfer carrots to bowl and set aside. Wipe out food processor workbowl and fit with metal blade. Process granulated and brown sugars and eggs until frothy and thoroughly combined, about 20 seconds. With machine running, add oil through feed tube in steady stream. Process until mixture is light in color and well emulsified, about 20 seconds longer. Scrape mixture into medium bowl. Stir in carrots and dry ingredients until incorporated and no streaks of flour remain. Pour into prepared pan and bake until toothpick or skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking time. Cool cake to room temperature in pan on wire rack, about 2 hours.

For the frosting: Using a paring knife, halve and scrape seeds from 2 vanilla beans. When cake is cool, process cream cheese, butter, sour cream, vanilla extract, and vanilla seeds in clean food processor workbowl until combined, about 5 seconds, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Add confectioners' sugar and process until smooth, about 10 seconds.

Run paring knife around edge of cake to loosen from pan. Invert cake onto wire rack, peel off parchment, then invert again onto serving platter. Allow to cool to room temperature.  Ice with frosting as desired and serve.

04 March 2010

what to do with 150 “leftover” macaron shells

So I completed my MacAttack challenge using the recipe I have had the most success with, but as Jamie pointed out in her lovely comments to me, yes, I had a tonne of leftover macaron shells.  I’m not sure just how big they make their macarons – maybe the size of a hamburger – because the recipe says it makes *20* sandwich cookies – I got 90.  That’s right, 180 shells in total.  Well, seeing as I was testing out a new flavour, I only made 1 cup of Saffron Buttercream, which isn’t really enough to fill that many cookies.  So I came home and brainstormed with hubby and he came up with an absolutely brilliant idea… the boozy macaron!  

Ganache can be used in a multitude of ways, one of them being macaron filling, another being truffles, which are often flavoured with various liqueurs.  It makes so much sense, I can’t believe it didn’t occur to me before.  I did not, however, head for the liquor cabinet.  Instead, I ran to my fridge for the wonderful little present my friend SZ brought me from London; Fortnum & Mason’s Cognac Butter.  It’s intended for good, english Christmas puddings like the carrot pudding my dear sweet Grandpa used to make each Christmas, but I did not make such a pudding this year, so I still had more than enough left to whip up a batch of Cognac Butter Ganache and fill all those orphaned mac shells.

So that’s what I did and packed them up for hubby to take to work (a great bunch of folks who comprise a good chunk of my taste-testers, and who save me from weighing 800 lbs if I had to eat all this stuff myself).   My husband reported back that the initial responses were “oh my god”, “holy sh*t” and a small crowd of people following him to his desk.  OK – I think we have a hit here.  The few leftover Saffron Buttercream macs were all getting good reviews, especially from the other foodies he works with, but not quite the same food-gasmic reactions as the cognac.  Now I just need to see if that friend of mine would mind zipping on over to London and picking me up some more of that cognac butter.  After all, it’s only a 9 hour flight and I’m sure finding Christmas pudding hard sauce in March shouldn’t be much of a problem…. I’m sure she won’t mind.

Cognac Butter Ganache
1 1/2 Cups (300 ml) heavy cream
350 g dark chocolate (I use Callebaut Dark Callets – after all, I have 10 kilos of the damn things)
4 Tbsp  (60 g) Fortnum & Mason Cognac Butter

Place  butter and chocolate into a heat-proof bowl.  Heat, but don’t boil, the cream in a small saucepan.  Pour cream over the chocolate and let sit for a few minutes.  Gently whisk or stir until mixture is well combined, thick and glossy.  Cool to room temperature before piping between macaron shells.  Devour with wild abandon.  When no one’s looking, lick the bowl and spoon clean, check face in mirror for any chocolate marks on face, forehead, chin, etc.  Resume composure and carry on with your day.