Monday, November 10, 2008

Hosting a Halloween Party is Fun...


... and admittedly quite tiring.




This year, I hosted my first ever Halloween party. A Halloween party where everyone comes dressed up and ready to party away isn't French by essence, so the American half of me was really the one hosting it.

Long before I started getting everything ready for the evening, I was already dreaming about intricately-decorated cupcakes, sugar cookies shaped like tombstones lying on a bed of Mont Blanc-ish "worms", and all the other great snack-type desserts that appear in Halloween cooking articles. However, I guess that people do that as a job, or have a few full days ahead of them to make it all perfect. I, on the other hand, couldn't really use my Halloween party as a way to get out of work for two days, so all my work was done starting 7pm on the 30th.

I settled on pretty simple things to start with: salty olive pound cake (green olives look like eyes...right?) and a pesto pasta salad. The sweet part was more exciting, though. Cupcakes and sugar cookies were on the list, with special Halloween sprinkles as toppings. 


Spot the missing cupcake!

Power-cooking is fun, but when you start at 7pm, it gets pretty old fast. In about 5 hours total, I ended up making two olive pound cakes, one pasta salad, 30 sugar cookies, and 36 cupcakes. It probably doesn't sound like much to those who bake for parties pretty often, but for first-timers such as myself it can get confusing. The 36 cupcakes were meant to cater to all of my friends' tastes, and I think they did: 12 vanilla / vanilla, 12 vanilla / chocolate, and 12 chocolate / chocolate.

Once everything was baked and set up, I must say I was happy about it all. My pre-Halloween baking marathon may have been a challenge, but it was just preparation...for next year's Halloween!


Recipes:

"Cake aux Olives"

4 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
250g flour
125g grated swiss cheese
250g green olives, pitted
10g baking powder
salt & pepper

(sorry about the Metric)

Beat together eggs, oil, wine, salt, and pepper until foamy.
Add flour, baking powder, cheese, and olives.

Bake at 350° for an hour or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.






Sour cream vanilla cupcakes: I substituted the cocoa in the above recipe for sugar, and they turned out great.



Vanilla Frosting

NB: I'm really lost. This is my 10th try at vanilla frosting, or something. And it may be French butter, or French confectioner's sugar, or both, but I NEVER get it right. I follow all the directions, have tried making it with a handheld mixer and by hand, but it gets too runny every single time...

(makes 1 cup)

4 tbsp butter
2 cups confectioner's sugar
2 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 pinch salt



Sugar Cookies

(makes 10 seriously huge cookies)

1.5 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup brown sugar & 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup softened butter
1 egg

Mix sugar and butter, then add egg and flour mixture. Bake 15 minutes at 350°.

These sugar cookies are really addictive and very very chewy. I'm just warning you.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Just Can't Get Enough - Attack of the Chocolate-Chip Blondie

You'll notice there's no picture accompanying this post.

Unlike the kouign amann, I didn't mess anything up this time--I ate it up.

Whenever I feel like eating something sweet and have chocolate chips on hand, I always crave the same thing: a chocolate-chip blondie.

For those unfamiliar with blondies (you won't be for long, trust me), they're like a huge rectangular cookie. They basically look like a brownie, but taste like a chewy, thick cookie.

Hungry yet?

I brought out my Pyrex rectangular glass pan, and the magic started. A blondie can be made in 15 minutes, baking time not included. That's a tiny 15 minutes compared to what you get. The recipe comes from Martha Stewart (again, I know, but who doesn't like Martha's recipes?) and is a true crowd-pleaser from what I've experienced.

The way I do it is the following:

4 tbsp melted butter
1 c. flour
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips, or a mix of chocolate and butterscotch chips--even better
Mix melted butter and sugars, add egg and vanilla, and finally add flour.
Next, add chocolate chips or butterscotch chips, mix, and pour into a parchment paper-lined rectangular pan.
Sprinkle with a handful of chocolate chips, and bake for around 35 minutes.

(I should be writing something along the lines of "Let the blondie cool before slicing into pieces", but I actually think you should rip off a piece with your bare hands while it's still warm.)

Then, of course, it's all yours. I would recommend not telling anyone that you've made a blondie; they will be expecting to taste it but when that time comes, either you will have eaten the whole thing already, or you'll just be mad that he or she is stealing a slice of your blondie heaven.

No, really, it's that good.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Cake Walk Cupcakes

When I think of elementary school cake walks, I think of cupcakes with sprinkles and a lot of frosting.

I also remember that I "wasn't supposed to eat cupcakes made by someone I didn't know". Which meant that most of the time, I didn't even get near them. But those sprinkles, those heaps of frosting... Translated into sugar content, though, I understand how looking at them from afar can be better. But still, the multicolored sprinkles on those cupcakes seemed better than anything. 

For some reason, I have always had a thing for sprinkles--it all started the day my maman and I ended up at the O'Hare Hilton because of a delayed flight. I may have been 5 years old, but I can still picture the donut I ate the next morning. I can't quite remember the taste, but the sprinkles covering the top of it definitely had an impact on my future tastes.

When I found a recipe for sour-cream chocolate cupcakes, I was curious as to whether or not I could transform them into the cupcakes of my cake-walk dreams. I bought some reduced fat sour cream, hoping it would work out just as fine--and it did. The cupcakes were really easy to make, the recipe was very easy to follow, and for once my frosting came out just fine. 
After topping the cake with an ice cream scoop-worth of frosting, I brought out my special sprinkle box. 



It has daisies, hearts, butterflies, and wildflowers--I think the end result is pretty cute.

Even better than those cupcakes from the "unknown parents".



Sour Cream Chocolate Cupcakes - makes about 14

1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 cup flour
1 egg
1/2 cup sour cream (I used 3%)
1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine water, butter, sugar, cocoa. Beat until sugar is dissolved.
Add dry ingredients, alternating with egg, sour cream, and vanilla extract. 
Fill cupcake cups about half full and bake for 20 to 25 minutes at 350°F.


Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting

1 cup chocolate chunks
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups confectioner's sugar

Melt chocolate, stir in butter, sour cream, vanilla and salt. Slowly add confectioner's sugar until achieving desired consistency.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Birthday Kouign Amann

My sister's birthday isn't until Wednesday, but she was spending the weekend in France and I really wanted her to have a full homemade birthday dinner before leaving.

Herb-crusted salmon with baby spinach salad was the main course (thanks, Martha Stewart) and I have to admit it was really good.

For dessert, I wanted to make something my sister liked (because, you know, that's what birthday cakes are for), and she doesn't like cooked fruit mixed with dairy products. Once that was out of the picture, I also ruled out anything too heavy or cream-filled.

In the end, I settled on a dessert I know she likes: a kouign amann. It's a specialty from Brittany, and is a caramelized cake filled with salted butter and sugar. Well, normally.

I didn't take any pictures of my two individual kouign amann because they weren't what I had hoped--I can't really speak of caramelized anything. After blowing out her birthday candles, my sister assured me that even if it didn't taste like a kouign amann, it was a pretty tasty crystallized brioche.

If you want to give the kouign amann a go, because it's a delicious dessert when you get it right, there are a few sites you can visit:




Some would say that you can only find a real kouign amann in a tiny hidden patisserie in a tiny hidden village on the west coast, but I honestly doubt that.

Good Luck!




Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Return of the Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie...

It's back!

I was really mad at myself for making hard-as-rock cookies when the recipe's reviews were so incredible. SO I decided to start over, hoping I would have greater luck.

As it turned out, spending too much time on the phone wasn't actually the reason for my terrible tough cookies: my poor recipe-reading skills are the ones to blame.

A while ago, I was reading an article about how important it is to read the little word after the comma when an ingredient is listed, for example: flour, sifted.

Or butter, melted.

At the time, I remember thinking "Who would actually forget to read a word?". Well, I sure did. Anyway, I forgot to melt the butter. This time around, I did, and it sure changed pretty much everything.

The reviewers on the site rave about "the chewiest cookies", "just like the delicious store-bought ones"... These are even better! They were large--it's pretty difficult to make them small because the melted butter makes the batter quite liquid--and definitely chewy.


I could finally bring my cookies to work; but since we know cookies have a mind of their own, they really wanted to stick around the apartment. Wait, did I say apartment? 

I meant my stomach.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I


I'm on a lifelong quest to bake all of the Great American Desserts, or G.A.Ds as I've decided to call them. G.A.Ds are often quite unknown in France, with a few exceptions--most everyone in Paris knows / has tasted cheesecake and carrot cake. However, when I mention Mississippi Mud Pie, I get strange looks: "What is mud?"

And when I explain that mud is boue, "Why would you call a cake mud???" 
They understood after I baked one a few days ago. 

My Mississippi Mud Pie is the result of a two-month-long process involving having my maman bring a chocolate pie crust from Illinois, and deciding who to invite to my exclusive Mud Pie-tasting session (I kid).

Armed with a Keebler's chocolate pie crust, I began my pie-making afternoon. I was surprised by how easy it was to make, and how few ingredients it called for. In 10 minutes, the pie was in the oven and we sat nearby--not so hard when you're in a studio apartment--and waited for it to be ready.



When the pie was out of the oven and had spent an hour in the fridge, I was anxious to see how it had turned out, especially since I substituted honey for the corn syrup called for in the recipe. After making some quick whipped cream, I was ready to serve the pie: it was still warm, because I just couldn't wait for it to cool completely. The first bite was a chocolaty-creamy explosion of not-so-cooked fudge, in other words: pretty amazing. 


My taster was surprised when he had his first taste, because he was expecting something really original--"Mississippi Mud Pie" isn't such a common dessert name, especially here. However, his first remark was that it was like a huge fondant au chocolat with a whipped cream topping, and the same comment came up the next day when I brought the leftovers to work.

You heard it, the leftovers: we didn't eat the whole pie. In fact, we "only" ate half , and my coworkers seemed pretty happy about that. 



Mississippi Mud Pie

1 chocolate pie crust (store-bought or homemade)
6 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
1/2 c. butter
4 eggs
1 c. sugar
3 tbsp. light corn syrup (I used honey)
1/2 tsp. salt

1 c. crème entière
1/4 c. confectioner's sugar

Directions

- Preheat oven to 325°F / 175°C.

- Melt butter with chocolate

- Using a mixer on high, beat eggs, sugar, corn syrup, and salt until thick (about 3 minutes). Fold butter/chocolate mixture into egg mixture, pour into pie shell. Bake 35 to 40 minutes until top forms a crust and filling is set.

- Transfer to a wire rack, then refrigerate until chilled.

- Make whipped cream: beat cream with sugar until peaks form. Top pie with whipped cream and chocolate shavings (optional)



Next G.A.D. : New York-style cheesecake!

What's your favorite Great American Dessert?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Baking when it's sunny outside is fun. 

But baking when there's a downpour? So much better. 

That wasn't exactly planned, because when I started baking it was semi-sunny, but I'll admit I smiled when I noticed/heard the rain. 
When I got home from work, I really wanted to make lemon squares, but realized I hardly had any of the ingredients. I decided to "settle" on chocolate chip cookies--those quotes are meant to express the fact that nobody ever really only settles on making cookies, at least I don't think so. Instead of looking through my cookbooks and magazines, I decided to give the Internet a try, and stumbled upon this recipe. 

The words best + big + fat + chewy, when it comes to chocolate chip cookies, seem almost too good to be true. The 2,000 reviews, however, really convinced me. They did, in fact, seem to be the best and chewiest cookies ever.

After bringing the recipe into the kitchen, I started wondering if I had enough flour. I didn't make the lemon squares because I had zero confectioner's sugar (entre autres, as we say), and it turns out I didn't have the 2 cups of flour needed for the recipe. What's strange is I always have a lot of rolled oats or wild rice, but never enough flour or confectioner's sugar--maybe not so strange after all.

So I cut the recipe in half, and it yielded 11 cookies. Now I'm pretty sure they would have been super-chewy, but I was too busy on the phone pondering the possibility of staying in school until 26. I guess the cookies didn't like that I wasn't paying attention to them, so they decided to harden up. Oh well. 


No hard feelings, tough cookies.


makes 18-22
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand using a wooden spoon. Drop cookie dough 1/4 cup at a time onto the prepared cookie sheets. Cookies should be about 3 inches apart.

Bake for 15 to 17 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the edges are lightly toasted. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Eclairs au Chocolat


I guess I'm not really good at remembering dates--I forgot to post this Daring Bakers Challenge on the 31st, and it was only my first challenge! I guess this marks the end of my "DB Days", because I just know this kind of thing will happen again...

Anyway, the challenge was to make chocolate éclairs using a recipe from Pierre Hermé. Now I am quite a Pierre Hermé fan: he just opened a chocolate & macarons shop on rue Cambon, right next to where I work. 

Now his eclair recipe is another story... 

Making eclairs consists of 1) making the pâte à choux, 2) forming the eclairs and cooking them, 3) filling them with crème patissière, and 4) icing them.

Part 3 went fine, but I definitely can't say as much for the rest... It all started out with the pâte à choux recipe. My eclair mission took place in my aunt's house in the Vosges, where my maman was staying until mid-August. She eyed my recipe and, as mothers watching their daughters cook usually do, had many many comments. Once the dough was prepared and the eclairs were piped onto a baking sheet, I was pretty convinced the recipe had proved Maman wrong: they were going to be perfect.

Well, having to open the oven for 5 minutes--or more precisely, stick a wooden spoon in the door--made them deflate even worse than when you pop a balloon. Not only that, when I removed them from the oven, they were almost sticky and you could roll them up into a ball. Not a good base for an eclair, right?

With my sad-looking eclair shells sitting on the kitchen table, I started the crème patissière, and it turned out a lot better. Once again, I wasn't able to avoid criticism for having bought Meunier chocolate instead of Nestlé Dessert at the supermarket, but we had been debating that since the previous day.


When my aunt got back from work, I literally pounced on her and asked for her pâte à choux recipe which was apparently really good. When my aunt Mimi discovered the Pierre Hermé pâte à choux recipe, she was surprised and immediately embarked on a "True Pâte à Choux" mission, no oven-door-opening involved. For the recipe, see my post on Chouquettes.

As planned, her eclair shells turned out well, and the cutting them open to add the crème patissière could start. That's when--you guessed it--my knife-cutting was welcomed by a "Oh, that's how your recipe says to do it? Because that's not really how you make eclairs, you're supposed to fill them." Too late.

By that time, I was honestly a little tired of my eclairs, and didn't even want to spend the time making the chocolate glaçage the recipe called for. I melted some chocolate and mixed it with some heavy cream until it made some sort of ganache. The end result is, well, interesting:



I'm happy I made eclairs because it had been on my to-make list for a while. I'm really disappointed by the recipe though--I don't know if the other daring bakers ran into the same problems. All I know is I'll be going back to my more simple and hassle-free choux recipe next time I'm in the mood for some pastries!

If you want to take a look at the Pierre Hermé version:

Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs (makes 20-24 éclairs )

Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé



Pâte à Choux

• ½ cup (125g) whole milk
• ½ cup (125g) water
• 1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
• ¼ teaspoon sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
• 5 large eggs, at room temperature


Notes:

• Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.
• You can pipe the dough and the freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking
sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer the piped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.

1) In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the
boil.
2) Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium
and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very
quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough will be very soft and smooth.

3) Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your
handmixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough. You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon. 

4) The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the éclairs.

5) Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Divide the oven into thirds by positioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with waxed or parchment paper.
6) Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 (2cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough. Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 4-1/2 inches (about 11 cm) chubby fingers. Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff. The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.
7) Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep in ajar. When the éclairs have been in the oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking time should be approximately 20 minutes. The éclairs should be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.




Chocolate Crème Patissière



• 2 cups (500g) whole milk

• 4 large egg yolks

• 6 tbsp (75g) sugar

• 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
• 7 oz (200g) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Velrhona Guanaja, melted
• 2½ tbsp (1¼ oz: 40g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1) In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy‐bottomed saucepan.
2) Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a couple spoonfuls of the hot milk into the yolk mixture.Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture.
3) Strain the mixture back into the saucepan to remove any egg that may have scrambled. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously (without stop) until the mixture returns to a boil. Keep whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat).Stir in the melted chocolate and then remove the pan from the heat.
4) Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set it in an ice‐water bath to stop the cooking process. Make sure to continue stirring the mixture at this point so that it remains smooth.
5) Once the cream has reached a temperature of 140 F remove from the ice‐water bath and stir in the butter in three or four installments. Return the cream to the ice‐water bath to continue cooling, stirring occasionally, until it has completely cooled. The cream is now ready to use or store in the fridge.

Notes:

•The pastry cream can be made 2‐3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
•In order to avoid a skin forming on the pastry cream, cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the cream.
•Tempering the eggs raises the temperature of the eggs slowly so that they do not scramble.



Chocolate Glaze (makes 1 cup)



• 1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream
• 3½ oz (100g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 4 tsp (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
• 7 tbsp (110 g) Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or at room temperature

1)In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.
2) Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.

Notes:

• If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly in the microwave or over a double boiler. A double boiler is basically a bowl sitting over (not touching) simmering water.
• It is best to glaze the eclairs after the glaze is made, but if you are pressed for time, you can make the glaze a couple days ahead of time, store it in the fridge and bring it up to the proper temperature (95 to 104 F) when ready to glaze.



Chocolate Sauce (makes 1½ cups or 525 g) 



• 4½ oz (130 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 cup (250 g) water
• ½ cup (125 g) crème fraîche, or heavy cream
• 1/3 cup (70 g) sugar

1) Place all the ingredients into a heavy‐bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens.
2) It may take 10‐15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon.

Notes:

• You can make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for two weeks. Reheat the sauce in a microwave oven or a double boiler before using.
• This sauce is also great for cakes, ice-cream and tarts.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Salmon & Black Sesame


I had been wanting to cook a salmon dinner for quite a while. In fact, I'll admit that I had never cooked fish before and was yearning for a nice salmon steak with some vegetables, but was slightly afraid. I wanted the fish to be cooked but not burnt, tasty but not fish-tasty, basically delicious.

Armed with high hopes, I marched to the supermarket and bought two salmon steaks. The rest was waiting at home: fresh green beans from my uncle's garden, and crushed black sesame seeds from my trip to the Japanese grocery store a while ago.

After putting the green beans in the steam-cooker, I proceeded to think about a tasty sauce that would go well with salmon. As you may have guessed, I am absolutely not a fish guru and have actually only been eating it for the past three years or so. I won't get into how I developed a hatred for fish (it involves a particularly traumatizing experience when I was six years old), but anyway, I couldn't eat it. 
Consequently, I don't posses innate knowledge of which sauce goes best with which fish, and simply decided to throw everything I had together. That almost always works right?

This time it definitely DID!

I made up a black sesame sauce by mixing the said ground sesame, soy sauce, sugar, and rice vinegar. The result was a syrupy sauce that tasted great with the salmon. 


And, to my surprise, the salmon was seared just fine. I coated the two steaks in normal sesame seeds beforehand to add a little crunch, which didn't really change anything in the end.

Only problem is, it was all ready for 9:30 and my doorbell didn't ring before 10... I should have entitled my post "COLD Salmon & Black Sesame", but oh well. At least I'm now reassured as to my fish-cooking skills, and am proud to say I am no longer traumatized! (by fish, at least--don't get me started on other phobias)




Black Sesame Sauce

30 gr ground black sesame seeds
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons soy sauce


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Chouquettes

What do monkeys and pâte à choux have in common?



Not so much, I'll admit, besides the fact that they were both part of my week-long no-blogging stay back in Saint Dié. There's a mountain filled with monkeys and you can feed them and watch them jump around in the woods--really entertaining even though I'm no longer 10.

Back to my dough.

I was having a bit of a dough dilemma last week, when Maman reminded me that Mimi, my aunt, is pretty much a pâte à choux expert. When she got home from work, I asked her for a helping hand and watched the magic unfold.

The recipe is truly very simple, and the prospect of making chouquettes was pretty much all I needed to get all excited.

Chouquettes are a snack that you like when you're a child but love just as much when you get older. They're light, tiny puffs sprinkled with coarse sugar. You can eat one if you want, but you'll probably end up eating ten--at least.

Anyway, I can't say that I really did anything apart from piping the dough onto a baking sheet, putting sugar on the puffs, and eating handfulls of coarse sugar while doing all this. But I did acquire a recipe that will stay in my book for a long time, because I really don't know anyone who doesn't appreciate a few cute chouquettes when they're handed to you in a bowl.




I used to buy some once in a while from the boulangerie across the street from my school before my 5 o'clock class; now I think I should start selling them in the courtyard and making multicolored chouquettes. It's a really cheap snack to make and people get giddy when they see a chouquette.

I think they're sort of an excuse to eat all the coarse sugar that has dropped off the chouquettes and into the bottom of the paper bag you buy them in, but that doesn't keep them from being really delicious.


Chouquettes

1 cup water
1/3 cup (80g) butter
1 1/4 cup (125g) flour
4 eggs
salt
1 tbsp. sugar
coarse sugar

Preheat oven to 200°C / 400°F.

Bring water to a boil, add salt and sugar, then add butter.

Once the butter has melted, add all the flour at once and stir until you get a dry dough.

Remove the saucepan from heat, and add eggs one at a time, stirring (your arms might hurt a little) until you end up with a nice dough that's not too liquid.

Pipe dough onto a baking sheet, making little pyramids/cones for each. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake until golden--now they're all yours.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Raspberry-Ginger-Chocolate Sprinkle Cupcake

I guess I could also call these my everything-but-the-kitchen-sink cupcakes.

I finally decided to get back to baking this weekend. There's a recipe I've been wanting to try for a while for poppy-seed cakes, but I didn't have all the ingredients needed.

That's when I thought I would just make cupcakes. I didn't want to make plain vanilla cupcakes, although they sure are good, so I ended up using pretty much anything I could find. I had some fresh ginger root left, and the bottom of a small box of dehydrated raspberries. The chocolate sprinkles come from a very special "delivery" by my maman of cooking utensils: knives, graters, zesters, sprinkles, ice cream toppings, and...chocolate chips! So I'm all set now. I didn't feel like using my chocolate chips in cupcakes though, and would rather save them for cookies, brownies of blondies.


I also wanted to try my new heart-shaped cupcake molds, so I was all set with my new gear. I prepared a simple vanilla cupcake batter, and added everything I had to it at the end. That's when I realized that I had forgotten to add baking powder (I admit I wasn't at my peak of concentration yesterday)... Realizing my étourderie, I proceeded to add the baking powder without a teaspoon and I think I may have added a bit much. 

Anyway, they came out looking more like muffins than cupcakes, and basically made me forget about wanting to frost them at all--yesterday was a lazy day! They make a nice breakfast cupcake, because the ginger and raspberries make them slightly tangy and not overly sweet. And the chocolate sprinkles, well, I don't really know what they add. But who doesn't enjoy hearing about chocolate sprinkles?


Notice my new heart-shaped sprinkles! 

Raspberry-Ginger-Chocolate Sprinkle Cupcakes (makes 12)

1 stick (115g) butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup self-rising flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk
1 tbsp fresh ginger
dehydrated raspberries (I added around 2 tbsp)
chocolate sprinkles (why not?)


Cream butter and sugars, add eggs one at a time. Add flour, vanilla extract, and milk. Add the rest of the ingredients, and scoop into cupcake cups. Bake for around 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Not-So-Red Velvet Cupcakes


The day before my British friend Faye left us to go back home, I decided to bake the all-American treat that are Red Velvet Cupcakes.

The nice--but sort of frightening--red color and the deliciousness that is cream cheese frosting made me go ahead and try them, because I had never ever made Red Velvet Cupcakes before.

Without much hesitation, I settled on Chockylit's recipe because the pictures themselves looked so good, and got out my cutest cupcake wrappers to celebrate Faye's last day at work. 

As I started to make the cupcake batter, I got my little vial of red liquid food coloring out of the cupboard. All the recipes I had seen called for gel, and I was sort of afraid that my liquid food coloring would have a strange taste. The only thing is, gel food coloring is awfully hard to find in random supermarkets in Paris, and I wasn't really keen on running out to Mora just for food coloring. So I added about half of the vial and thought my batter was reddish... But they turned out as dark as chocolate can get (the cupcakes aren't really red, the strange light coming in through my kitchen window is to blame):

Oh well. My Not-So-Red Velvet cupcakes weren't red, but that didn't stop me from having one straight out of the oven. In my opinion, they had a strange bitter-like taste and were really dry. As for the cream cheese frosting, I used the same one as for my Carrot Cake (2nd try). 

The next afternoon, I had another one and--surprise!--they tasted great. Not too dry but not too moist, and the weird bitter taste had altogether disappeared. 


My maman got me the adorable silicone heart-shaped cupcake pans, and I can just imagine how good my N-S-RV cupcakes will look in those...


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies

It all started with a fall in the middle of the road.
I was on my way home last week when, suddenly, I spotted a dress on the other side of the street. A really nice dress, actually. Oh, I had to get a look at it. So I ran—and slipped. In the middle of the road, nowhere near a crosswalk, and feeling extremely dumb about it. Apart from the fact that I vowed never to do that again, my tailbone really hurt.
The next day at work, I obviously had trouble with the whole sitting down and getting back up thing. My coworker Vanessa, understanding just how much of a child I am, bought me a really cute gift so I would feel better.
To thank her, I decided to bake something, and cookies was the final decision. The only thing is that she’s on a diet and didn’t want to feel bad about eating a couple cookies instead of one. I, on the other hand, had rolled oats and “chocolat patissier” ready for use. After looking at a couple oatmeal cookie recipes online, I did what I had never done before—I created my own recipe!
The recipe is pretty classic, apart from the fact that I used spread with only 10% fat instead of butter or margarine. The problem with doing this is that the cookies were great 5 minutes out of the oven, 5 hours, even 15 hours, but afterwards they became a little too moist and sticky. I'd definitely recommend eating the cookie dough, considering that I was dying to eat all of it. 


Straight out of the oven, though, they were stunning: the chocolate chunks were half-melted, and since I didn’t add much sugar, they weren’t overly sweet. Another weird thing, though: they were perfect after only 7 minutes in the oven at 350° (180°C)—another consequence of using spread instead of butter, I’m guessing.
In the end, if you’ve got an oatmeal cookie craving that won’t subside after a single bite, this recipe might just be what you’re looking for. You could even eat the whole batch…


Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies - makes 18 medium size cookies
1/2 cup low-fat margarine or spread
1/2 cup dark brown sugar (in France, it's called Vergeoise)
1 egg
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup chocolate chunks
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C. 
Cream butter/spread and sugar. Add egg, vanilla, and mix in dry ingredients.
Bake for about 7 (yes! 7!) minutes, and let cookies cool on a wire rack.

Note: If you're looking for the real, non fat non diet thing, I'd recommend using real butter, and perhaps adding more sugar. You'll be able to keep them longer!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Pretty Little Mango Pearls



Last Saturday, I discovered a cute little place called Le Labo, where artists and scientists meet. The result is unconventional exhibits: until the end of July, the Labo is hosting a Thierry Marx / Jérôme Bibette exhibit, where cooking meets science.

Thierry Marx is a world-renowned chef, famous for his "cuisine moléculaire". Jérôme Bibette, on the other hand, is a famous chemist. The exhibit is based on this new way of cooking, where chefs attempt to discover original food forms without modifying the taste of their dishes.

The exhibit was made up of a small machine that creates "food pearls", video art by Mathilde de l'Ecotais, and design propositions for a new take on bento boxes.

The main part of this sensorial exhibit, though, was the food-tasting. I had gotten a reservation for two for the "Degustation Gourmande": Grapefruit mousse, Mango pearls, and a citrus pudding. I had always wanted to try something invented by Thierry Marx, and was really expecting a totally different culinary experience. 
After having a glass of champagne, we got our little bento box-inspired tray, "filled" with our snack. 


Overall, the food was good, but we both agreed that there wasn't anything crazy about it.
The grapefruit mousse was alright, but what's so special about a grapefruit mousse?
The mango pearls were funny to eat, and knowing they were made with the cool machine changed everything. I guess that was the best part.
The citrus pudding with a berry gelée was really good, I'll admit that. But... it was just a pudding! Molecular cuisine?!? 


The funny part came after that. I had read so much online about the Whif, this apparently great invention that allows you to inhale chocolate through an aerosol. We were--once again--expecting craziness, a futuristic system resembling some kind of oxygen machine, but got nothing like it.

When you were little (or even now), did you ever make yourself toast with butter and cocoa powder on top? If you did, you probably remember inhaling while you bit into your toast, and getting a bunch of cocoa powder down your throat. Not so fun!
Well, the Whif was exactly like doing this, without the good taste of bread and butter. You're supposed to smoke it like a cigar, but this whole fake-seeming invention just felt useless.

My final thought about Le Labo? It's a great place, and the idea behind it is truly wonderful. Making it possible for artists and scientists to interact is a terrific idea, I just wish this particular exhibit had been a tad more surprising.

The next day, I went to the Valentino exhibit--no food, but that was a truly delectable experience.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Madeleines


Back home in Illinois, my maman keeps her sewing needles, thread, etc. in a thin wooden box. On it is the logo of a French all-time favorite, the Madeleines de Commercy. 

Hailing from the small town of Commercy, madeleines are one of those 24 hour snacks: you can have them in the morning for breakfast, in the afternoon for tea, or in the evening as dessert if you wish. They're moist but have a very subtle taste, making them suitable for every occasion. Plus, the shape gives them a special something that simple financiers and other French snacks lack. 

A few months back, I was with my sister and aunt Mimi in a cooking store in the Vosges, and we stumbled upon the most adorable pale pink Fauchon silicone pans. There were muffin pans, financier pans, but the cutest were by far the madeleine ones. Just looking at the color of the pan makes you want to bake madeleines.

That's why a couple evenings ago, with nothing much to do, I decided to bake some madeleines and bring them to work the next day. For some reason, I felt like adding extra flour than the recipe called for, which wasn't such a good idea. My madeleines were still really tasty, but they were a bit more dense (I seem to have a problem with that!) than usual.

That said, nothing beats the fun of watching the center of a madeleine grow taller by the minute in your oven, dense as it may be.



The recipe is part of the "family cookbooks" and is really so simple it's hard to go wrong if you follow it perfectly.

Madeleines - makes 36

Ingredients

4 eggs
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp orange blossom water (optional, but really adds something to it)
1 and 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled

Oven temperature: 375°F.
In a double boiler, beat eggs + sugar + vanilla + orange blossom water until thickened. Remove from heat, and beat until cool. Add flour and butter, without overmixing.

Scoop into madeleine pan, and bake for 12 to 15 minutes.



There you go--easy to make and attention-grabbing all at once. I thought people would look at my madeleines like any other snack, but I got quite a number of ooh's and ahh's; I guess it's all about the shape!


Sunday, July 6, 2008

Muesli, Granola: Whatever you call it, it's addictive

If you've ever tasted crunchy granola cereal, you know how addictive it is to dig into the box and look for clusters. 

I usually forget all about the non-clustered part of the box, eating it in the end because, well, I need to finish the box to buy another one. This time, however, I decided to make my own muesli--that's how we call it in France but it's the same as American granola.

I had bought a huge tub of fat-free fromage blanc, a tangy kind of yogurt, and was starting to feel guilty about eating it all day long with very sweet--albeit delicious--homemade strawberry jam. Muesli seemed like a much healthier option for my early morning breakfasts, so I did a little bit of research online and ended up creating my own recipe. 

It ended up being a little crunchy, definitely not as much as my addictive cereal but it's also a lot healthier. Actually, I don't think many things make you feel healthier than eating wheat germ at 7:45 in the morning. The cane sugar and honey gave my rolled oats + wheat germ + toasted sesame seeds a nice, sweet but not too sweet taste. 

Here's the end result, along with a small bowl of my lastest obsession, fromage blanc:


It's also the easiest thing to make in the world:

Mix 1 cup rolled oats, 3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, 3 tablespoons wheat germ, 2 tablespoons cane sugar and heat in a skillet. Drizzle honey on top of it all and mix in the skillet until warm and just a little toasted. Remove from heat, let cool, and eat it all up!

You can also put it in the oven if you mix all the ingredients every few minutes or so, and it might even taste better, but making it in a skillet was already better than I ever expected.


Next time, I'll add little chunks of chocolate (chocolate chips are irritatingly hard to find here)... and my muesli will permanently replace any treasure-hunting in store-bought boxes.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Baking and (Sun)burning



If you've ever been to France and never to the Vosges region, you're missing something.

Quiet, peaceful, and oxygen-filled : everything Paris is not. My short weekend in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, small town in the Eastern part of France gave me the opportunity to learn a new cake recipe. As well as getting huge accidental sunburns and eating a lot of groseilles and raspberries, because the garden was full of them:



Apart from visiting my aunt Mimi, which was obviously the main purpose of my going to St Dié, I decided to bake a kougelhof.

"A what??"

A kougelhof is an Alsatian cake, baked in a huge bundt pan. It's moist and simple, with just a few raisins and almonds. The recipe my aunt has been using forever comes from a local baker and has been getting compliments from ever since I can remember.

That's why, on Sunday morning--we were having a family lunch--I decided to try out a kougelhof. What could go wrong with a trusted recipe before my eyes? 

The only problem was, I'm not quite the type to read recipes carefully. So when I see "mix yeast in warm milk" and "add butter to the rest of the milk", the word "rest" sort of sneaks away... 
So the butter went into the yeast + milk, and I only realized this when it was too late--everything was already in the mixer bowl, ready to become a delicious kougelhof dough.

I stayed optimistic, and while we put the cake in the oven at 100°C for an hour to let it rise instead of outside in the sun for 6 hours like you're supposed to (I hadn't gotten up early enough for this part), I was sure the dough would rise.

It did, to some extent. So then began the cooking, and the end result was actually quite nice. Sure, it was a bit drier and definitely more dense than a traditional kougelhof, but it still had that sweet yeasty distinctive taste. Plus, it was still pretty to look at:


Here's the recipe, which I promise turns out perfect if your read it right!

Kougelhof - prep time 40 mins, 6 hours before final baking

Ingredients (in metric this time)

500g flour
250 mL milk
125g butter
20g yeast
2 eggs
125g sugar
100g raisins
100g slivered almonds
salt
powdered sugar

- Melt the yeast in 2 tablespoons warm milk, and make sure the milk stays warm.

- Melt butter in remaining milk in a double boiler.

- Mix flour, salt, sugar, and add eggs. Add milk/butter mixture little by little. Finally, add yeast and raisins.

- Butter the sides of a 1,5L bundt pan, and cover inside of the pan with slivered almonds. Pour in dough, and cover with a clean dishtowel. Keep in a warm place until the dough reaches the top of the pan and overflows a bit, about 6 hours.

-Place in oven at about 325°F / 160°C for 40 minutes, until a knife inserted into the cake comes out clean.

- Dust with powdered sugar and serve.


Voila!