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


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


- 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


• 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
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.


•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.


• 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.


• 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.