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


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


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
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.