28 June 2010

Not every ballerina gets a dessert named after her....

The June 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Dawn of Doable and Delicious. Dawn challenged the Daring Bakers’ to make Chocolate Pavlovas and Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse. The challenge recipe is based on a recipe from the book Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard - a book already in my collection.

Ahhhhh, Pavlova. There's a dessert I haven't had in years! This was one of the dessert's in my mom's arsenal when I was a kid. She often made this when we were going over to a friends' for dinner, or had company to our house in the summer - the perfect light and elegant dessert. Even better, it was quick and easy to prepare and didn't require standing around a hot stove for hours on those +34c days of summer. A gorgeous puff of meringue, baked in a low, slow oven until it was nice and crisp with just a bit of colour, covered in a blanket of whipped cream and served with sweet, juicy strawberries. Mm mmm mmmmm... It was a huge favourite of my sister's, not only because it's sweet and about 50% cream, but this dessert was named for the once famous ballerina, Anna Pavlova (I say "once famous" because he time was back in the 1920's and I'm willing to bet more people today know the dessert than the dancer). Well, sis dreamed of being a ballerina, and she worked hard at it for years, but the women in my family were not blessed with height, so it was not to be.

Whoa, this ain't my momma's Pavlova. Chocolate, mascarpone cheese, creme anglaise... nope, this is a different dish altogether, and I could not wait to give it a try. This is why I decided to stick to the recipe as it was posted. Ooooh - and I can work on my piping skills! Thank you Dawn! 

The meringues whipped beautifully into glossy gorgeous peaks in no time - they were absolutely pearlescent before I added in the cocoa and icing sugar. Because meringues were one of the hardest things for me to master when I first began learning to bake, I find a perfect meringue to be a thing of beauty. I filled my piping bag with the glossy foam and began piping out swirly nests that would hold the rich chocolate mousse. Taking a page from my macaron experience, I decided to let these air dry for about an hour before I put them in a low temperature oven for another hour. Just before bed, I turned off the oven and left the meringues there get nice and crisp overnight. By morning they were irresistible, yet I would have to resist, at least until I got home from work and made the mascarpone mousse and crème anglaise. 

I had made crème anglaise once before but found it to be nothing but tooth-achingly sweet. This recipe, however, from François Payard, with mascarpone cheese whipped into it was thick and creamy and delicately flavoured. Not having any Sambuca in my liquor cabinet, I chose to omit it, instead doubling the amount of vanilla. While the crème chilled in the fridge, it was time to make the chocolate mascarpone mousse, which was fairly straightforward as mousses go. With the addition of the cheese, it was beyond rich - almost overpoweringly so, but it was thick and creamy and held it's shape beautifully. Since the crème anglaise was not yet chilled, the mousse also went into the fridge for the night. Which turned out to be a happy coincidence actually...

The next night, hubby finally arrived home from his 2 week business trip (yay!), so I didn't do much baking - between flight delays and waiting for luggage, we didn't get home until 10pm. The next night however, we had some surprise dinner guests in friends visiting from Vancouver. Dinner was a simple homemade pasta with grilled shrimp, and dessert was as simple as assembling the chilled components sitting in the fridge. Violà! Garnished with a few fresh cherries, and we enjoyed a fabulous elegant dessert in less that 5 minutes!

No, this certainly is not the pavlova of my childhood, it is an incredibly rich, chocolatey version of it. Next time, I would probably make opt to just make the meringues and the mascarpone crème anglaise, serving an elegant version of Ile Flottant. I think it would be significantly lighter yet still just as elegant as this challenge turned out.  But don't just take my word for it - give it a try yourself and let me know what you think!

Happy Baking!


Chocolate Meringue:
3 large egg whites
½ cup plus 1 tbsp (110 grams) white granulated sugar
¼ cup (30 grams) confectioner’s (icing) sugar
1/3 cup (30 grams) cocoa powder
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 200º F (95º C) degrees. Line two baking sheets with silpat or parchment and set aside.
Put the egg whites in a bowl and whip until soft peaks form. Increase speed to high and gradually add granulated sugar about 1 tbsp at a time until stiff peaks form. (The whites should be firm but moist.)
Sift the confectioner’s sugar and cocoa powder over the egg whites and fold the dry ingredients into the white. (This looks like it will not happen. Fold gently and it will eventually come together.)
Fill a pastry bag with the meringue. Pipe the meringue into whatever shapes you desire. Alternatively, you could just free form your shapes and level them a bit with the back of a spoon.
Bake for 2-3 hours until the meringues become dry and crisp. Cool and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days

Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse:1 ½ cups (355 mls) heavy cream (cream with a milk fat content of between 36 and 40 percent)
grated zest of 1 average sized lemon
9 ounces (255 grams) 72% chocolate, chopped
1 2/3 cups (490 mls) mascarpone
pinch of nutmeg
2 tbsp (30 mls) Grand Marnier (or orange juice)
Put ½ cup (120 mls) of the heavy cream and the lemon zest in a saucepan over medium high heat. Once warm, add the chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and let sit at room temperature until cool.
Place the mascarpone, the remaining cup of cream and nutmeg in a bowl. Whip on low for a minute until the mascarpone is loose. Add the Grand Marnier and whip on medium speed until it holds soft peaks.
Mix about ¼ of the mascarpone mixture into the chocolate to lighten. Fold in the remaining mascarpone until well incorporated. Fill a pastry bag with the mousse. Again, you could just free form mousse on top of the pavlova.

Mascarpone Cream:
1 recipe crème anglaise
½ cup (120 mls) mascarpone
2 tbsp (30 mls) Sambucca (optional)
½ cup (120 mls) heavy cream
Prepare the crème anglaise (below). Slowly whisk in the mascarpone and the optional Sambucca and let the mixture cool. Put the cream in a bowl and beat with electric mixer until very soft peaks are formed. Fold the cream into the mascarpone mixture.

Crème Anglaise:
1 cup (235 mls) whole milk
1 cup (235 mls) heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks
6 tbsp (75 grams) sugar
Directions:In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture turns pale yellow.
Combine the milk, cream and vanilla in a saucepan over medium high heat, bringing the mixture to a boil. Take off the heat.
Pour about ½ cup of the hot liquid into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly to keep from making scrambled eggs. Pour the yolk mixture into the pan with the remaining cream mixture and put the heat back on medium. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens enough to lightly coat the back of a wooden spoon. Be careful not to overcook.
Remove the mixture from the heat and strain it through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until the mixture is thoroughly chilled, about 2 hours or overnight.

Final Assembly of the Chocolate Pavlova with Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse:
Pipe the mousse onto the pavlovas and drizzle with the mascarpone cream over the top. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and fresh fruit if desired.

25 June 2010

Papa Screams for Ice Cream

I love to bring people joy with my food, it's one of my favourite things about cooking and baking.  This why I like bringing desserts when we get together with friends, or baking a cake for someone's birthday.  It's the reason I send treats to work with hubby, or take a pie over to a friends house "just because". While I don't necessarily need an occasion, Father's Day was as good an excuse as any, especially when Papa has a finely tuned sweet-tooth.

Two of Dad's favourite things are ice cream and everything caramel.  That meant deciding on what to make was pretty straightforward; Homemade Dulce de Leche Ice Cream.  For most people having cake and ice cream at a birthday, the ratio is about 2 cake to 1 ice cream.  For Dad it's more like 3 ice cream to 1 cake, and even then, he'll ask why you're being so stingy with the ice cream.  For his birthday one year, I even made him a home-made ice cream cake, something I imagine I'll do again soon, as his birthday is fast approaching.

Making ice cream from scratch is not all that difficult, but it is a lengthy process when you do it properly.  So be warned, when a sudden insatiable craving for ice cream hits, you'd better run to the store because this is not something that can just be whipped up in 20 minutes like a batch of cookies.  Nope - there's a lot of waiting and chilling time involved here.  Even more so because we're making French style ice cream.  Let me explain...

There are two basic types of ice cream (I'm not even going to get into gelatos, sorbets or semi-freddos today - that's another post entirely); Philadelphia style and French custard style ice cream.  Philadelphia ice cream is usually pretty simple and light, as it contains just cream, sugar and flavourings.  There's no cooking required in this kind of ice cream, but you're still going to have to wait for it to freeze up.  French custard style ice cream, on the other hand, needs to be cooked first. because it contains egg yolks, which give this kind of ice cream a rich taste and mouth feel, and it's also why some vanilla ice creams are a creamy yellow colour  instead of a pure, snowy white colour (that would be Philly style).  For French custard-style ice cream, you cook your custard first, then it needs time to cool down and chill in the fridge for a while.  Once it's chilled, then you can put it into your ice cream maker and let those wonderful ice crystals work their magic and incorporate air into the cream - which is what gives ice cream it's trademark texture.  When it comes out of the machine, it will be the consistency of soft-serve ice cream, so it still needs to be transferred into a container and put into the freezer for a few hours before it will become really firm.  I know - it sounds like an awful lot of work for something you can pick up at the corner store, but homemade ice cream tastes sooo much better, and you should be able to pronounce every ingredient it was made with.  Not the case with 90% of the stuff in the grocery store freezer.  Hopefully I haven't scared you out of trying this recipe, because it really is worth the effort, and more importantly, so is Dad.

To go from just regular, plain ol' vanilla ice cream (which I personally happen to love) to dulce de leche ice cream, all you need is a jar of dulce de leche.  OK, so it's not all that common for most people to keep a jar on hand, but in my fridge, there is almost always a jar of home-made caramel sauce on the shelf, right beside the jar of dark chocolate ganache (because home-made or not, all ice cream is better with a little bit of warmed sauce on top).  These days, you can also buy jars of dulce de leche at just about any grocery store, which comes in pretty handy for recipes like these ones.  To get a really caramelly ice cream, I took inspiration from David Lebovitz's recipe for Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream, and used dulce de leche in place of most of the sugar in the custard base.  Once that was done and the custard was cooked, chilled and finally had a run in the ice cream maker, all that was left do was to add a nice, thick swirl of pure dulce de leche through the finished product before it headed into it's rest in the freezer.  A few hours later, Dad was enjoying his Father's Day present and aside from several "mmmmmmm's", was not talking much.  It's a pretty good feeling to see someone who has done so much for you in your life, enjoying the little treat you made especially for them.  It's the least we can do for our dads, don't you think?

Dulce de Leche Ice Cream
Makes approximately 1 litre of ice cream

370ml     whole milk     1 1/2 Cups
370ml     whipping or heavy cream     1/12 Cups
15ml     vanilla     1 Tbsp
3g     salt     1/2 tsp
250ml     dulce de leche     2 1/4 Cups
4 egg yolks
30 g     granulated sugar     2 Tbsp

Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl about 2/3 full with ice and cold water; set aside.  Get a smaller bowl and place a fine sieve over it and set aside. This is what the finished custard will be poured into.
In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, cream, vanilla, salt & 150ml (1 1/4 cups) of the dulce de leche.  Place over medium-low heat and gently stir the mixture periodically to help the caramel fully melt.  Do not allow the mixture to boil - you want it to be just barely simmering at it's hottest.
In a separate bowl, placed on a damp towl or non-skid mat, add the 4 egg yolks and the sugar.  Whisk vigorously until the mixture is pale yellow.  Continue whisking (quickly but not as vigourously) and carefully pour the 1/3 of the hot cream in a slow and steady stream into the egg mixture - this is called "tempering" (The trick to avoiding scrambled eggs here is to to never stop whisking, and to not add the hot cream too quickly).  Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining cream and gently stir over medium-low heat until the custard just begins to thicken.  Again, you don't want the custard to boil, you only want it to thicken. 
Remove from heat and carefully pour the custard through the sieve and into the empty bowl. 
Immediately place the bowl into the ice bath, ensuring that no water gets into the custard. 
Cover the custard with plastic wrap and allow it to cool to room temperature before removing from the ice bath and placing in the fridge to chill for 2-4 hours until cold.
Follow the manufacturer's directions for churning the custard in the ice cream maker.  Once it has finished churning, the mixture should have more than doubled in volume and be soft-serve ice-cream consistency.  Working quickly, scrape the ice cream into a freezer-safe container.  Pour the remaining dulce de leche over the ice cream and swirl it throughout.  Transfer the ice cream to the freezer and allow to chill for several hours.  When the ice cream has fully frozen, all you need are spoons and a couple of bowls...

Happy Father's Day to all the dad's out there.  I hope you were able to enjoy your favourite treat to celebrate.

Happy Baking!

18 June 2010

Baking my way through writer's block...

Hazelnut Pound Cake with a Nutella Ribbon
Writer's block sucks.  I've been back from London for 10 days now, and am still "stuck" on what to write about.  There's no shortage of stories to tell, or topics to discuss - it's simply a matter of the words not coming.  I think I'm just over-thinking the whole thing.  Trying too hard and getting absolutely nowhere.

My whole routine has been slightly off kilter for the last couple of weeks.  Hubby has been gone on a couple of business trips and his absence has been very noticeable.  During the first trip, I was simply enjoying a bunch of "me" time - enjoying the silence in the house and being able to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.  If I felt like having a bowl of popcorn for dinner, I could.  Then I was off on my own excursion to the UK, discovering a whole new world full of people who are just as nuts about food as I am.  He arrived home while I was away, and got to enjoy some alone time of his own.  I returned a few days later and had just a few hours to spend with him before it was time for bed and right back to work the next day.  A word of advice: if you ever take and insanely short trip overseas and think you can handle going straight back to work 14 hours after you come home, you're wrong.  Don't do it.  Take a day off to figure out which continent you're on, do some laundry and just enjoy the post-holiday glow (something which wears off alarmingly fast at the office).  By Sunday, hubby was back on a plane and I was home alone again.  However, this time the house just felt... vacant.  All of the things he does around the house are now all on my plate, and the bed feels lop-sided with just me in it.  Sure, a couple of times I've let the dogs sleep on the bed with me, but I only wake to find myself pinned under two 60 pound dogs, clinging for dear life to edge of the mattress despite the fact that the bed is emptier than normal.  {sigh}  I miss my hubby...

Several times I have sat down at the computer to write a post, but it's like wading through wet cement.  Finally, I decided that I needed to get back in the kitchen (popcorn for dinner is only fun for so long).  I hadn't baked much since being home either - like I said, my whole routine is out of whack.  So, I shook it off and flipped through a couple of cookbooks for inspiration.  I settled on Toasted Hazelnut Pound Cake from Regan Daley's In the Sweet Kitchen - the first cookbook I ever sat down and read cover-to-cover, and still one of my favourites.  I put my favourite playlist of French music on the iPod (something else that always seems to help when I need inspiration) and got to work.

I happened to have a bag of hazelnut flour in the pantry, saving me the step of skinning and grinding up all those nuts, which was nice.  I didn't have any hazelnut oil though - something the book said was recommended, but not essential for the recipe.  Oh well - next time.  The batter was pretty straightforward and came together beautifully.  I did switch up the baking pan and the recipe a bit though.  Rather than baking it in a round spring-form pan, I baked it in my springform tube pan and added a generous swirl of Nutella through the middle of the batter.  Gorgeous smells were coming from the oven in no time - I just needed to be patient and wait for it to cool.  When it finally did cool enough for me to slice into, what did I see but a nice "smile" of chocolate-hazelnutty goodness in the middle of my cake.

If you like hazelnuts, you will absolutely love this cake.  It's a bit lighter than a traditional pound cake, but toasty and nutty and moist, with a lovely crisp crust.  I will be baking this one again - and probably very soon.  I even picked up a bottle of hazelnut oil for next time - I can't wait to see how it enhances the flavour.

Delectable cake baked and tasted.  Pictures taken.  Post written.  I think I may just have finally broken through the wall.  Whew!

*A word about my new recipe format:  while I've always tried to list both metric and imperial measurements in the recipes I post, I've decided to change the layout to make it a bit easier to read - especially for the metric cooks out there.  It's not that the old-fashioned American cooks out there don't matter, but you are seriously outnumbered here.  C'mon already!  It really is time to get on board with the whole metric system like the rest of the planet.

Hazelnut Pound Cake (with Nutella Ribbon)
next time...
Adapted from In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley

240g   hazelnut flour (finely ground hazelnuts)  1 1/2 Cups
201g   sugar   1 Cup
226g   unsalted butter, room temperature   1 Cup
100g   light brown sugar   1/2 Cup
4 large eggs, room temperature 
10ml   vanilla   2 tsp
284g   all-purpose flour   2 Cups
13g   baking powder   2 1/2 tsp
3g   salt   1/2 tsp
125ml   heavy whipping cream   1/2 Cup
15ml   hazelnut oil*   1 Tbsp
*optional, but recommended by chef
180g   Nutella   3/4 Cup

Preheat oven to 350˚F and place rack in centre position of oven.  Butter a 9-inch tube pan or round springform pan, and set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine all purpose flour, hazelnut flour, baking powder and salt.  Whisk together, or sift ensuring there are no clumps.  Set aside.
In bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and both sugars until pale & fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure to mix well after each addition.  Stir in the vanilla.
Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated.  Pour in 1/2 of the cream, and mix on low speed to combine.  Mix in another 1/3 of dry ingredients, followed by the remaining cream, as well as hazelnut oil if you are using it.  Finally, mix in final third of dry ingredients and mix just until no traces of white remain.
In a bowl, gently warm the Nutella in the microwave for about 10-15 seconds, until it is just fluid enough to pour.
Pour approximately 1/2 of the batter into the prepared baking pan and spread evenly.  Pour a ribbon of Nutella over the centre (if using a tube pan, or in two concentric rings if using a round springform pan) of the first layer of batter, making sure to distribute it as evenly as possible.  Pour remaining cake batter on top of Nutella and even out the batter with an off-set spatula.  Make sure that no Nutella is peeking out anywhere - if it is, gently spread some of the batter over it to cover.
Bake for 60 minutes, or until the top springs back lightly when pressed.  Remove from oven and run a paring knife around the edge of the pan to release the cake.  Invert cake onto a wire rack and allow to cool for 20-30 minutes.
Well wrapped, the recipe says this cake keeps well for up to 5 days if refrigerated.  Kept on the counter at the office, it lasts about 2 hours before it's completely gone.

Happy Baking!

22 June 2010

RECIPE UPDATE:  I have since made this cake again, but this time I added the recommended hazelnut oil along with about 50g of flax seeds (see, now it's "healthy"! *wink* *wink*).  Let me just say that a) toasted hazelnut oil smells *amazing*, I could just sit there and sniff at it all day; and b) the added taste of the hazelnut oil is wonderful, it just adds a bit more depth to the toasty nuttiness.  Suddenly I am reminded of a line from one of my favourite movies, Rataouille (quel surprise), where Remy is tasting some food with his brother Emile...
     Remy:     Are you detecting a certain oaky nuttiness?
     Emile:     Oh, I'm detecting nuttiness alright...
Hahahaha - so cute!  I love that movie!

So, while you don't necessarily need the hazelnut oil, it's quite nice to have it in there.


11 June 2010

current state of my blog

Hello all!

Well, this week I have spent a lot of time trying to get caught up on so many things: posting, sorting through photos, catching up at the day job, and getting some sleep (that 8hr time difference really kicked my butt).  On top of that, I have spent several hours attempting to restore my blog to it's previous look - unsuccessfully.  No idea what happened there, or how, so instead of fighting it, I just went with a new template for now - *something* to give it a bit of colour!  Maybe now's as good a time as any to do the site I really want, the way I really want it (just when Meeta had me on board with being patient, now I have no choice but to make some changes).

So, thank you for your patience as my blog goes through some "wardrobe changes".  Hopefully there will just be one more.  I'll keep posting here until I'm ready for the big reveal, and I'll be sure to keep you posted.

Happy Baking!


10 June 2010

Funky Monkey Macarons

This month's MacTweets Challenge comes hot on the heels of my trip to Food Blogger Connect, in London. It was an incredible trip, one of the best things being tha I finally got to meet a few of my fellow MacTweeters like Cecilia with her One Vanilla Bean, Bethany and all of her Dirty Kitchen Secrets, Pam a.k.a. the Cooking Ninja, Sarah, who lives at the fabulous Maison Cupcake, the fabulous Mowie of Mowielicious fame, and the darling Meeta, who asks What's For Lunch Honey? In anticipation of this trip, however, I was most excited to finally meet the brilliant Jamie, one of our fearless MacTweets leaders, who writes beautiful stories about how Life's A Feast - and she is just as sweet and kind as I had hoped she would be.

For this month's challenge, Jamie & Deeba (who was unable to attend FBC) challenged us to "Walk on the Wild Side" with our wild animal inspired macarons. I have to admit, I was a bit stumped by this one for a while, if only because I don't always associate many wild animals with my food. If only I had seen this beautiful fella, sitting in the lobby of the Hempel Hotel in London, before I made my macs (he's the perfect embodiment of this challenge!)

A few days before I left for the conference, hubby was called away for a business trip, which meant I was on my own for a few days. Typical of moest people, we each have our different food likes & dislikes, and when we are apart, we tend to indulge in the things the other hates. When I am out of town, hubby gets to enjoy all the soup he wants (that's right - I'm a freak, I hate soup. Even the smell of it makes me gag), and when I'm on my own, I go and get myself a few bananas for simple treats like bananas & cream (a childhood fav), banana bread or bananas foster over ice cream. Spying them sitting on the counter one night, inspiration struck and the Funky Monkey Macaron was born...

I whipped up a batch of chocolate macaron shells, which turned out quite pale compared to previous batches of chocolate macs, and then got to work on making a delicious banana pastry cream for the filling. I dug through all of my recipe books, looking at recipes for banana cream pie, but every recipe simply layered slices of banana in the pastry cream-filled shell. This was not what I was looking for, so I decided to just add a single mashed banana to my favourite pastry cream recipe. That's when I discovered why the pie is made with slices... pastry cream with a banana blended in does not set up. I learned the hard way that the custard that normally firms up just enough to stay in place in a pie shell or pâte à choux becomes a delicious but runny mess when you add a mashed banana. I'll try making it again, adjusing the recipe to see if I can get it to gel, or if all else fails, next time hubby's out of town and I bake with bananas, I'll just blend them into chocolate ganache, or else take a lesson from Pierre Herme and add a tiny piece of banana in the centre.

So while they may not have turned out quite as pretty as I had hoped, they did turn out to be quite yummy. If anyone out there has a recipe for a tasty banana filling that actually sets up, I invite you to give this one a try, and let me know how it works out for you.

The recipes for both the macaron shells and the basic, non runny pastry cream can both be found in previous posts on this blog. Just click on the link and it will take you there!

09 June 2010

Publisher's Comments


Hello Everyone,

This is just a very short note to everyone visiting my blog (thank you!), that I have just returned from a fantastic trip to Food Blogger Connect 2010 in London.  I had an amazing time, details of which I will be sharing very soon.

However, I have returned home to see that the templates, headers, titles and colours are all missing from my blog.  So, my apologies for the current state of my blog - it does not normally look this way.  I am working on getting the problems fixed - at least long enough for me to switch to WordPress.

Thanks again for visiting, and I hope you come back again and see it as I want it to look.  Until then...

Happy Baking!