Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Sachertorte

(Or how an epic fail turned into a yummy cake.)

"The night before Christmas" evokes magic and holiday spirit. It can also bring up images on delicious White Chocolate Macadamia Rasperry cakes from Fine Cooking... that is, until you actually follow the recipe step-by-step, and put the first cake layer in the oven for "28 to 35" minutes. 28 minutes later, unbaked. 35? Same thing. An hour later, the layer was baked, but once it cooled there was no doubt about it: too much butter in the recipe. Just putting my finger on the cake made it glistening, and although the cake wasn't terrible-tasting, it did have a strong butter note that I could've done without.

Off to the birds it went.

I wouldn't say it became The Nightmare Before Christmas, but it came close. I didn't know what to bake to make up for my ingredient-heavy and time-consuming failed cake. In fact, I didn't even know where to start looking. I wanted something easy but holiday-worthy, and those two don't go together much. And I definitely wanted a cake, not cookies or biscotti, as tempted as I was.

I settled on a chocolate cake, and decided to use the raspberries that were planned for cake #1. That is, until we realized that despite what the man at the market said, they had definitely gone bad. Raspberry jam would do. Chocolate, jam... sachertorte!

I would call this a modified sachertorte, because it seems that the traditional one uses apricot jam and a chocolate-syrup glaze (I used ganache). However, it came together easily and I added the raspberry jam and glaze the next morning. After a little decorating, the result was pretty nice. Well, especially nice after such a bad start!

And the taste? Everyone was happy, and the jam provided a nice contrast to the chocolate.

Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too.

Christmas Sachertorte

Makes one 9-inch two-layer cake

(sorry for the European measurements!)

130g dark chocolate (Ghirardelli's 72% baking chips were great)
130g butter
40g confectioner's sugar
1 TS vanilla extract
pinch salt
6 eggs, whites and yolks separated
180g granulated sugar
130g all-purpose flour
350g raspberry jam

Chocolate Ganache
4 oz. dark chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 190°C.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler until smooth. Let cool to 35°C.

Beat butter, confectioner's sugar, salt, and vanilla with a mixer. Add chocolate and beat until fluffy. Add six egg yolks one at a time, until blended.

Beat egg whites to stiff peaks with granulated sugar. Fold into the chocolate mixture.

Add flour and mix until combined.

Butter a 9-in. springform pan, and add a disk of buttered parchment paper to the bottom of the pan. Pour batter in, smooth, and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, approximately 40 minutes.

Once cake is completely cooled, split it in half to create two layers. Heat raspberry jam until it becomes easy to spread, and spread half between the two layers and on top layer.

Spread remaining jam on the sides of the cake and spread another layer on top. Refrigerate cake 30 minutes so the jam sets.

Make chocolate ganache: melt chocolate over a double boiler. Remove from heat and add cream, beating for 15 to 30 seconds. Spread on top and sides of cake. (This may seem like the "opposite" way to make ganache, but it works)

Decorate, and keep cake in a cool place until serving.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays & Merry Christmas!

The best part of Christmas morning is getting up late after a night filled with opening presents...that is until the day you start baking dessert for the 25th when family comes over. In that case, it means getting up earlier to try and finish the cake you started on the 24th--mission accomplished! (But more on that later)

In honor of Christmas morning, a few pictures of my favorite muffins baked a few days ago in snowy Paris. Remember these?

Well, here they are, no recipe included. You know why? Just scroll down and you'll find out.

If someone asks me what I learned in 2009, I'll know what to reply: my favorite muffins come from a box mix. Well, in that case, I know who to give thanks to. Thank you, Betty Crocker!

And most of all, happy holidays to everyone!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Last Thursday, I woke up to the sight of surrounding Parisian rooftops covered in snow. I opened my window and realized that if I ran downstairs, right then and there, in my cupcake PJs, I would probably be covered in snowflakes in about 30 seconds. And it hit me: Christmas!

Last year was a snow-less Christmas, and there's honestly nothing better than being able to go Christmas shopping with snow in your hair and stuck to your boots. Plus, snow is the perfect excuse to go all out in the holiday sweets division. It's cold and wet, so hot cocoa, chocolates and cakes are only fitting. I mean, who would want to eat a fruit salad on a cold snowy day? Alright, I'm sure some people like that actually exist, but I don't know many. Or any, actually.

Anyhow, a certain species starts to appear in French pâtisseries around the same time snow starts to fall: the holiday dried fruit and chocolate combo. I'm not talking about truffles or marrons glacés--they would deserve a year's worth of blog posts on their own--but rather the ubiquitous mendiants and florentins. Sure, you can eat them year round, but they have a special Christmas something that everyone appreciates. I'm not one to say no to any kind of chocolate, but I've always been more of a "tout chocolat" kind of girl. Add marzipan or hazelnuts nicely stuffed into the center and I'm just as happy, but dried fruits? Not my thing.

Take one look at a florentin, however, and try to tell me you don't want to eat it--even just a little. Almonds and dried fruit--usually cherries and oranges--are covered in a cream and honey mix, and the bottom is plunged into melted dark chocolate. Convinced?

Florentins are admittedly quite simple to make. All you need is a kitchen thermometer that actually works so that the sugar, honey and cream don't burn when you bring them to a boil--that was not my case. But nothing burned, and my florentins were safe and sound. I also didn't have time to go elsewhere than my local mini grocery store, where no dried cherries or candied orange peels were to be found. Cranberries it was!

They make a great gift, but I'll understand if you keep them to yourself. Just one word of caution, though: make sure your teeth can stand all the delicious stickiness. If it's the case, then you're all set for some truly happy holidays.

makes 12

2/3 c. sugar (150g)
1/4 c. honey (50g)
2/3 c. + 1/2 TB crème fraiche (160g)
3.5 oz. candied orange peels (100g)
1.8 oz. pine nuts (50g)
3.5 oz. slivered almonds (100g)
5.3 oz (2.3 c.) dark chocolate (150g)
12 round pastry cutters

Preheat oven to 300°F / 150°C.

Dice candied orange peels.
In a large saucepan, pour creme fraiche, honey and sugar and mix. Bring to a boil and cook, approximately 5 minutes, until mixture reaches 244°F / 118°C on a thermometer. Add almonds, pine nuts, and orange peels.

On a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, place the 12 pastry cutters and fill each with a generous amount of the mixture. While baking, it should spread out so don't worry if you don't have perfect circles beforehand.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden but not brown. Remove pastry cutters delicately, and let florentins cool on parchment paper for at least an hour, and up to 3 hours.

In a double boiler, melt dark chocolate. Coat the bottom of each florentin with a brush or by dipping it into the chocolate, and place them in the refrigerator so the chocolate can harden, at least 15 minutes.

Store in an airtight container, separating each layer of florentins with parchment paper or plastic wrap so they don't stick to one another.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Warm Almond Cream Scones...for a cold Winter day

As far as I know, cold weather makes any baking aficionado want to run over to the oven and get something going. Cookies, biscotti, or a rich cake--everyone has their own cold-weather comfort food. I usually opt for cookies or muffins, but last week I was in a lighter mood. Obviously, I don't mean that I was in a better mood, because I'm always in a good mood--who's that I hear laughing uncontrollably at how untrue this statement is? I simply felt like a lighter, less-butter snack, that would go well with tea.

Clearly, when you think of less butter, you don't normally think of scones. But I browsed around and found a recipe that just might cut it: cream scones. I decided to play around with it and change some ingredients here and there, not really knowing what to expect. Although my last cake was a success, I'm not really the type to talk to myself (well, that, yes) and say "Give yourself a pat on the back!". Did anyone else experience that in elementary school? We had to physically give ourselves a pat on the back. No, really. This is the part where the French people raise an eyebrow and go "Ah, ces Americains...". And in this case, they're right. But at least I learned about Kwanzaa and all the other French kids didn't!

Back to the scones: I'm in an almond mood and decided to go for some almond extract added in. Let me just say this: make these now. They're light, fluffy, and insanely delicious when pulled out of the oven. And they're so easy to make that really, you have no special reason to give yourself a pat on the back. That would just be a waste of time, and the scones would be getting cold.

Almond Cream Scones
makes 6 medium-sized scones

1 c. flour
1/2 TB baking powder
1/4 TS salt
1/8 c. sugar
1/2 c. crème semi-épaisse, heavy cream would work just as well in the US
1 TS almond extract

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.
Stir in cream and almond extract with a fork until the mixture looks easy enough to handle.

On a floured surface and with floured hands, lightly knead (the lighter the touch, the lighter your scones) the dough into a 1/2 inch thick round. Cut into 6 wedges and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Preheat oven to 425°F / 218°C and bake for 15 minutes, until scones just start to become golden.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

An Unexpected Cake

You know the story: it's 10:30 PM, you should be studying or at least reading a good book, but you can't get your mind off it.

It? Well, in most cases, it refers to ice cream, cheese, or chocolate. In my case, it was more like baking. All I could think about was baking something, anything, with the leftover pumpkin puree that was in the fridge. I started counting off the available ingredients: applesauce (that was before I realized it had been sitting in the fridge a little too long, and was swiftly replaced by oil), eggs, flour, poppy seeds, almonds, cinnamon, butterscotch chips... After the success of the oatmeal scotchies, I couldn't leave the remaining chips alone for too long.

And somehow, between 10:30 and 11--or 2230 and 2300, to give it some importance--a cake came together. I don't really know how, given that I pretty much mixed a good five recipes together, but it sure was good: very moist, yet with a slight crunch from the poppy seeds and slivered almonds. Not to mention the cinnamon pairing with the pumpkin puree to give it some nice warmth. And the butterscotch chips? I'll just put it this way: perfect combination.

I could call it Lucie's Cake, or Pumpkin Delight, or some other cheesy name. But I think I'll stick with what describes the cake best: The Unexpected.

The Unexpected

This recipe yields two mini bundt cakes (like the ones found right here), enough for four people when serving it for tea or a nice snack.

1/4 c. oil
1 egg
1/2 TS vanilla
1/2 c. pumpkin puree
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. flour
1 TS baking soda
1 TS baking powder
1/4 TS salt
1 TS cinnamon
1 TB poppy seeds
1/4 c. butterscotch chips
a handful of slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C.

In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon together.

In a large bowl, mix sugar and oil together. Add vanilla, pumpkin, and egg--one at a time--until combined.

Add flour mixture and blend until combined, adding remaining ingredients as you mix.

Pour batter into two mini bundt pans.

Bake approximately 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs attached. Let cool in pans 5 minutes and invert onto a wire rack. Cool for at least another 30 minutes before serving.

To store, place in a tightly sealed box for a few days maximum.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Back of the Bag

...or how I developed an addiction to butterscotch.

I don't think I had ever baked with butterscotch up until a few days ago. In fact, I can't even say for a fact that I had tasted anything with butterscotch in it for years. For some reason, a little voice in my mind thought it would be a good idea to bake a butterscotch something...anything, really.

So there they were, two nice yellow bags of butterscotch chips, sitting in my kitchen cupboard. I didn't forget about them, no way, but it was around my birthday and I had a lot of other things on my baking list. So they sat in the cupboard, patiently waiting to unleash their fury. It all started on a Tuesday night, when I ran out of chocolate. I was helplessly pondering the alternatives--apples?, apricot jam?, carrots??--when they came as a memory flash. "Ha!," I clamored, "I know there's something in the cupboard." And that was the start of my downward spiral into the world of butterscotch chips.

They look so small, so harmless: what could a few chips do besides make you happy? Well, it started out with 5 chips. Then I came back for another 5. And another--you get the idea. But thankfully, I was reminded that butterscotch chips have the word butter in them, and that maybe I should slow down a bit. So I put the bag down, only to start this little game for the next couple of days. That was when I remembered that I actually wanted to bake with these things--the only surefire way to get me to stop eating them on their own. My logic was kind of twisted, I'll admit it: I decided I would eat less butterscotch chips if they were spread out in a baked good. Because I would eat less of the baked goods, right? No. Wrong. At least I had faith in myself, if only for the few seconds it took to decide I was going to bake something.

Next came the decision of what exactly to bake. Butterscotch blondies? Sounds delicious, but I wanted a change from the usual, albeit amazing, blondie. My eyes wandered to the bag I was holding in my hand. "Oatmeal Scotchies"? Sounded good. Strangely, I never really look at the recipes on the "back of the box", and the only ones I've made were Nestlé Dessert chocolate mousse and Libby's pumpkin pie.

I can proudly say that after baking oatmeal scotchies--or simple oatmeal cookies with butterscotch chips, call them what you will--I will be making these again. And again. And...I don't think have to keep going with this.

Friends of mine, of the non-American variety, had their first taste of butterscotch with my cookies. The overall consensus was "Mmmm" followed by "What kind of nuts are in this?". For anyone who doesn't know butterscotch, it's basically butter and brown sugar cooked together, not unlike toffee but it doesn't have that burnt quality toffee has. I guess that the butterscotch, paired with oatmeal, gave the cookie a little toastiness which is reminiscent of nuts.

From now on, count on me to look at the back of all boxes. For now, I still have a few butterscotch chips left--and trust me, they won't be there for long.

Oatmeal Scotchies
adapted from the Nestle Recipe

Note: I halved the recipe and got approximately 30 cookies.

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened (When I halved the recipe, I used only 90g of butter, which is substantially less than 1/2 cup)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups quick or old-fashioned oats
  • 1 2/3 cups (11-oz. pkg.) butterscotch chips

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Combine flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in oats and morsels. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 7 to 8 minutes for chewy cookies. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thanksgiving in Paris: Pumpkin Cheesecake

Everyone knows what Thanksgiving in the United States is all about: food, food, food, and...more food. Then comes post-Thanksgiving: Christmas shopping, Christmas decorations, and pretty much getting hyped up about the upcoming holiday season. It seems like all of a sudden, bakers forget pumpkin even existed. After the end of November, it's all about gingerbread and the like.

Paris doesn't exactly follow the same pattern, for obvious reasons. Thanksgiving isn't a holiday here--strangely, some Americans actually wonder why--and nobody goes as holiday-crazy as they do back in the States. That's why celebrating Thanksgiving is always a little strange, especially when your boyfriend is French and doesn't really get the point of it, especially when it's only a week after your birthday and you've only just finished celebrating.

In any case, I wanted to do a little something for the 26th. The truth is, I got a little jealous from hearing and reading about everyone baking endlessly in preparation for Thanksgiving. Even if I wasn't really going to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, I wanted to bake a dessert. I didn't even have much thinking to do: I had a never-been-used mini springform pan that seemed perfectly adapted to a perfectly sounding dessert: pumpkin cheesecake.

Oh, it was risky: I'll admit that I've never made a cheesecake before. I'm planning on it, sure, but I keep saving it for a moment when I have friends coming over. But then, when they do, I figure that I shouldn't try a cheesecake just right now... and it all starts over. A pumpkin cheesecake seemed a little different, and I told myself I couldn't be taking that much of a risk with a pint-sized version of the real thing.

Creamy, nicely spiced, it was everything a Thanksgiving dessert should be. Even if you only eat it on the day after.

Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake
Serves 12
adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

Note: I divided the recipe by 3 to fit into my mini-pan and ended up having way too much filling...I made crustless heart-shaped mini cheesecakes and froze them--recipes coming later!
8 whole graham crackers, broken into 1-inch pieces (or 3/4 c. graham cracker crumbs)
6 TB unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 TB sugar
1 TS pumpkin pie spice
1/2 TS ground cinnamon

1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree
1 1/3 c. sugar
1 TS ground cinnamon
1 TS pumpkin pie spice
1/2 TS salt
1 1/2 lbs. cream cheese (I used the French "nature à tartiner"), cut into chunks and softened
(I pressed it between paper towels to remove excess moisture, since the French nature à tartiner has more moisture than cream cheese)
1 TB fresh lemon juice
1 TB vanilla extract
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup heavy cream

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325°F.

Process graham crackers in a food processor to fine, even crumbs, about 30 seconds. Sprinkle melted butter, sugar, and spices over crumbs and pulse to incorporate. Sprinkle the mixture into a 9-in. springform pan. Press the crumbs firmly into an even layer using the bottom of a measuring cup.

Bake the crust until fragrant and beginning to brown, 10 to 15 mins.

Let crust cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Once cool, wrap outside with 2 sheets of foil and set in a large roasting pan. Bring a kettle of water to a boil.


Spread pumpkin puree on a triple layer of paper towels. Press additional layers of paper towels on top of puree until they are saturated.

Whisk the sugar, spices, and salt together in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until smooth, 1 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl as needed.

Beat in half of the sugar mixture until incorporated. Beat in the remaining sugar mixture. Beat in the dried pumpkin, lemon juice, and vanilla until incorporated. Beat in the eggs one at a time until combined.Beat in the heavy cream until incorporated.

Brush the inside of the springform pan with melted butter. Carefully pour filling into the pan. Set the roasting pan, with the cheesecake, on the oven rack and pour boiling water into the roasting pan until it reaches about halfway up the sides.

Bake cheesecake until a thermometer inserted in the center registers 150 degrees, about 1 1/2 hours (a lot less if you're scaling the recipe down, watch out!)

Let cheesecake cool in the roasting pan for 45 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and cool until barely warm, running a knife around the edge of the cake every hour or so. Wrap the pan tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, about 3 hours.

To unmold the cheesecake, wrap a wet, hot towel around the cake pan and let sit for 1 minute. Remove the sides of the pan and carefully slide the cake onto a cake platter.

Let the cheesecake sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Almost a year ago now, I was in New York, and complaining about my kitchen right here. Remember? I couldn't even get my trusted pumpkin chocolate-chip muffins right.

I'm back in France now, and I'll let you imagine the big sigh of relief when I chomped away on a warm muffin coming right out of the oven a week ago. Good thing they were a success, because I had 30 of them waiting patiently for my guests coming over to celebrate my birthday with a Sunday brunch. I don't think it would be pushing it to say brunch is one of my favorite meals--I'm always intrigued to see who is more of a sweet brunch or salty brunch person. I used to be 100% sweet until I realized I always had a craving for something salty (pretty rare in my case) a few hours later. Now I'll just have both: you can't actually say no to breakfast food when it could potentially be in front of you in a few minutes.

In any case, I had planned a sweet and salty (I banned savory from my personal vocabulary) brunch for my birthday last weekend: pumpkin chocolate-chip muffins, mini pastries, yogurt with homemade jam, and potato-pancetta frittata with truffle butter and truffle salt. Add to that a simple salad with sesame tahini dressing and everything was set to go.

As the afternoon went on and the pumpkin muffins dwindled down, I couldn't help but look at the frittata and wish it were almond french toast or warm pancakes with maple syrup.

Once a sweet girl, always a sweet girl, I guess.

Pumpkin Chocolate-Chip Muffins
makes approx. 30

3 c. all-purpose flour
2 TS baking soda
2 TS baking powder
2 TS pumpkin pie spice
1 TS cinnamon
1/2 TS salt
4 eggs
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 can pumpkin purée
1 c. applesauce
1 1/2 c. chocolate chunks or chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C. Line muffin tins with paper liners.

Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, mix eggs and sugar. Add pumpkin and applesauce, and stir well to combine. Add flour mixture until moistened.
Stir in chocolate.

Spoon batter into muffin tins (about 2/3 full) and bake 20-25 minutes, until tops spring back when touched. Cool in pans for 5 minutes, remove and let cool completely before serving.

These can keep several days if stored in the refrigerator.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Easy as Pie...or Easy as Chocolate Mousse

That expression, "easy as pie", has always seemed pretty weird to me. At first, I thought it meant easy as baking a pie, in reference to the fact that pie-baking should be easy. Which, unless you buy a ready-made crust and canned filling, it's not. Making the dough, rolling it out, par-baking, you get the point. I later found out that "easy as pie", or "simple as pie", actually means as easy as sitting around to eat a slice of pie. That is, pretty much not doing anything.

Anyhow, to get back to the way people define simplicity, I find there's a real difference in France and in the U.S. In America, a simple dessert might be some kind of berry cobbler. A more upscale, fancy dessert would be chocolate mousse. France sees things in quite a different light. A cobbler would definitely be considered more elaborate than a mousse; in fact, go to my school cafeteria and you'll find chocolate mousse and crème caramel on any given day. Chocolate mousse is the kind of dessert that reminds you of your childhood and the simple things that taste good.

To tell you the truth, I hadn't had a mousse au chocolat in a really long time. Last time I could remember was making some in a huge bowl and scooping it out by the spoonful once it was set. No cute wine glasses or fancy serving bowls: chocolate mousse is best served family-style. Suddenly, about a week ago, the craving for mousse came along. The nice part of it is that this kind of craving doesn't involve any grocery list or extensive prepping. All you need are two things: chocolate and eggs.

But the best part is what makes baking and cooking a moment of pure happiness: the smile on your friend's face, proof that your dessert just hit the spot.

Chocolate Mousse
serves 2-3

2 egg yolks
3 egg whites
100g bittersweet chocolate (about 3.5 oz)

Melt chocolate over a double-boiler. Add egg yolks and a little sugar if desired, and mix.

In a different bowl, beat egg whites to stiff peaks. Take 1/4 of egg whites and incorporate to chocolate mixture.

Delicately incorporate remaining egg whites and chocolate mixture.

Refrigerate for at least 1 to 2 hours before serving, and bring to room temperature at least 20 minutes prior to serving.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


When I was younger, and still of age to have my maman pack my lunch in my pink sticker-decorated lunchbox, I was often a little frustrated. The kids at my lunch table had Lunchables, Fruit Roll-Ups and Capri Sun. Me? I had fresh veggies, Juicy Juice berry juices, and "fruit leather". You know what I'm talking about: strips made of 100% fruit, in 20 kinds of different flavors.

Who had the best lunch? Well, I guess that depends on the person you ask. Like girls who have straight hair wanting it to be curly and vice versa, I wanted what I couldn't have. This may be hard to believe, but I was longing to dig into a bag of Fritos instead of carrots and homemade yogurt dip. Sure, now that I look back, I'm pretty sure my kids will be eating the same thing for lunch--and last year in New York, fruit leather was my snack of choice. But back then, all I wanted was artifical coloring and high fructose corn syrup.

My maman didn't give in--she went the sly way. It would have been too easy to just say no, and leave me with a strange fantasy of living in a world of junk food. But she said yes. Yes, I could try Lunchables once, and even pick my "type". I could try Fruit Roll-Ups, and I could even try Capri Sun. I picked the pizza Lunchables because it looked cool--who would say no to the prospect of making their own pizza for lunch? That was without considering that it was more like making an uncooked pizza on cardboard bread. The Lunchables version of a pizza consists of "bread", tomato sauce and cheese that you just pile on top of one another and eat. Strange way to see it, to say the least. You could say that after that episode, Lunchables were no longer my ideal lunch. Fruit Roll-Ups? They stick to your teeth even more than fruit leather, and don't taste like anything. Plus, those dollar signs you're supposed to be able to cut out always tear and never look like anything cool. And don't get me started on Capri Sun. Between that and Sunny Delight, I don't really know which one makes me want to run and down 5 glasses of water to take the taste away. I tried, and I went back to my trusty good-for-you lunches.

One thing I never tried, however, was the Fluffernutter. I actually didn't know such a thing existed before reading about it a few weeks ago. Marshmallow Fluff, peanut butter and bread--it sounded strange, but I was intrigued. I had marshmallow creme (creme? cream? I've seen 'creme' in some US articles too) left over from my fudge, and had some peanut butter on hand. I had no bread, but something even better...pretzels. Needless to say, I had a junk food revelation a few days ago--fluffernutter pretzels are my new guilty snack.

Staying on my fluffernutter bender, I was planning on baking some brownies for a group work session for school, and wanted to customize them a little. My "aha!" moment came when I realized marshmallow fluff + peanut butter + brownies was a possibility, and that these brownies were a must try. I started out with a classic recipe from America's Test Kitchen, and added some peanut butter and marshmallow cream that I swirled into the batter with a knife. Unfortunately, the marshmallow that stayed on the top of the brownie decided to go campfire on me and started to burn for some reason... But I pulled them out right before they were burnt burnt, and they had that bonfire taste that was pretty enjoyable.

I won't be asking for a fluffernutter version of Lunchables anytime soon, but these brownies do the trick. Plus, they're homemade, which makes it perfect: giving the feeling of junk food in a not-so-junky snack.

Fluffernutter Brownies
Makes approx. 16 brownies

8 TB butter
3 oz (approx 90g) bittersweet chocolate
2/3 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 TS baking powder
1/4 TS salt
2/3 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 TS vanilla extract
several spoonfulls peanut butter & marshmallow cream

Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C. Line an 8-in square baking pan with a foil sling.

Melt butter and chocolate together in a double boiler, and let cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, whisk dry ingredients together. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Add melted chocolate mixture until combined, and stir in dry ingredients until just incorporated.

Scrape batter into pan, and drop peanut butter and marshmallow fluff in small dollops. Run a butter knife through the batter to create swirls.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 27 to 30 minutes. Rotate pan halfway through baking.

Let brownies cool completely before cutting into squares.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Less Is More : Learning from an ancestor

"Less is more" is one of those quotes that everybody seems to know. It's often attributed to the architect Mies van der Rohe and associated with the Bauhaus movement. Well, guess what? He wasn't the first to popularize the saying.

In fact, it first appeared in Robert Browning's poem Andrea del Sarto in 1855--and it turns out Robert Browning (not as famous as his wife though, Elizabeth Barrett Browning) is my great-great-great-uncle, or something along those lines.

Anyway, I forgot to take a cue from my ancestor when I decided that a pumpkin pecan pie sounded good. Actually, it still sounds good if I say it again, but I should have thought about it twice. It's a common mistake--when you love two things, why not mix them up in a single dish? I guess that's how you can explain some people like to dip their fries in ice cream. From what I've heard--from those that enjoy it, obviously--it's a pretty tasty combination. In my mind, however, it just spells trouble. But pumpkin and pecans, you'll say, seem to complement each other quite logically. Plus, I love pumpkin pie, and I love pecan pie. So I should "love squared" pumpkin pecan pie.

It started out well--the recipe, again from allrecipes, had a ton of positive reviews--and all the ingredients were appetizing. I made my new favorite sweet dough and poured the pumpkin filling into my new American-sized pie dish. I then spooned the pecan filling on top, and baked everything until it was ready. My friends couldn't wait for it to cool, so my first bites were of a warm pumpkin-pecan pie, which just might explain why it seemed rather écoeurant to me.

Basically, I think I would rather have a small slice of pumpkin pie and a small slice of pecan pie than a large slice of this combination of both. (Actually, I would rather have a large slice of both.) It doesn't really add anything positive to mix them up.

Keeping it simple seems to be a pretty good idea in baking, even though when I see a recipe that piles ingredients one on top of another--like a seven-layer magic bar--the sugar-crazy child in me feels like jumping up and down. When it comes to pies, however, less really is more.

From now on, I'll stick to the pie basics. Then I can keep thinking "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways..."

Robert and Elizabeth Browning, reconciled in their great-great-great-niece's kitchen.

Pumpkin Pecan Pie
adapted from allrecipes.com makes one 9-in. deep dish pie

Pâte Sablée

1 cup pumpkin purée
1/3 c. granulated sugar
1 egg
1 TS pumpkin pie spice
1/2 TS cinnamon

1/2 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 TB butter, melted
1/2 TS vanilla extract
1 cup pecan halves

Make pie dough and press it into pan. Freeze for at least 30 minutes before baking.

Bake dough, covered with foil and with pie weights, for 20-25 minutes at 375°F.

Mix pumpkin, sugar, egg, pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon in a medium bowl and stir well. Spread on bottom of pie shell.

Combine maple syrup, eggs, sugar, butter, pecans and vanilla extract in a medium bowl. Spoon over the top of the pumpkin filling.

Bake at 350°F / 180°C for 50 minutes - 1 hour until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely (at least one hour) before serving.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pumpkin Cookies

The name is pretty simple: pumpkin cookies. I could turn that into moist pumpkin spice cookies, or iced autumn pumpkin cookies, or even iced moist autumn pumpkin spice cake-cookies, if I really wanted to. I'd rather not: the pumpkin cookies I made for last Sunday dinner will remain as simple as can be.

Honestly, there's not much of a crazy story to go along with these. Nothing about intense nostalgia or throwbacks to when I was young enough to look at toy catalogs with awe--on second thought, I still do that. Did you know they now make about twenty different kinds of "play kitchens"? With stovetops that make actual sizzling sounds when you place a "pan" on them? I'm not sure they would have gotten first place in front of all my Barbies and My Little Poneys, but still, I was impressed.

Anyway, when I found the recipe for Pumpkin Cookies on Allrecipes, the 1,200-odd reviews were all pretty laudatory. I was looking for something simple, somewhat light, that packed all the flavor fall has to offer--and according to the reviewers, this was it.

Pumpkin cookies are, in a few words, exactly what they promise to be. The simplicity of their name echoes the simplicity of the cookie itself: it takes no more than 20 minutes to make, it has a simple cake-like texture, and the flavor can be summarized in one word: fall. One bite and all the tastes of the season come together, giving you exactly what you expect from a pumpkin cookie.

Easy does it, right?

Pumpkin Cookies
adapted from allrecipes makes about 20 cookies

1 1/4 c. flour
1/2 TS baking powder
1/2 TS baking soda
1 TS cinnamon
1/2 TS pumpkin pie spice
pinch salt
1/4 c. butter, softened
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. pumpkin puree
1 egg
1/2 TS vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C.

Combine dry ingredients and set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugars. Add pumpkin, egg, vanilla and beat until creamy. Mix in dry ingredients.

Drop onto a cookie sheet by tablespoonfulls (you can try making bigger ones, they'll be softer and just as good).

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, and cool before glazing.

To make glaze: Combine confectioner's sugar, 1 TS cinnamon, a few drops of vanilla extract and enough milk to acheive spreading consistency. (The cinnamon gives the glaze not only a great taste but also a light sparkle)

Monday, November 2, 2009

So sticky I ate them all: Sticky Buns

When I was little, we would spend Thanksgiving break at my grandparents' house in Frederick, Maryland. Their house on Elm Street was just like in American movies--that's the way I explain it to my French friends. There was a large front porch with a swing, chairs and a table for late afternoon lounging. One of the rooms upstairs, the girls room, was roomy and had an old radio sitting on a dresser.

I had a few favorite things in Frederick: the attic, where there was an old Ouija board, the basement with its ping-pong table--home to yearly aunt/uncle/cousin tournaments, and breakfast. Breakfast in the house on Elm St. meant one thing: Grandma's sticky buns. They're pretty much a legend on my father's side of the family; every single one of my cousins has some strange kind of emotional link to them and the slight mention of a sticky bun probably has most of us thinking of breakfasts at Grandma's kitchen table.

You might think I'm a little crazy for feeling so strongly about food (like a warm apple crisp), but believe me, sticky buns are justifiably something to go crazy for. "Another one of those rich American breakfast foods that should be eaten for dessert", some people might say. But no, I assure you, sticky buns are international. I dare you to find a single person without a smile on their face after having one of these. I also dare you to find someone who doesn't ask for seconds. I'll prove it to you: my aunt Mimi--my maman's sister--once went to Frederick, years ago. She still remembers the sticky buns she had there. Take my maman, who loves to indulge but isn't really the breakfast food type--she loves them. I won't keep going, but you get the point. Grandma's sticky buns are the real deal.

After a night in the kitchen...

It's tempting to try to call these cinnamon rolls, but they're not. You can't even see the rolled part, to tell the truth. One look at them on your plate and the first word that comes to mind is gooey. One bite, and all you'll be thinking is gooey...and delicious. Packed with a syrupy, pecan-filled cinnamon flavor, you'll keep coming back for more. Obviously, my version of sticky buns was missing that special something, but I don't mind. They're still completely amazing. Plus, the recipe is nice and simple--just get everything ready the day before, and your sticky buns will be oven-ready, and tastebud-ready, within less than a half hour. And believe me, that's quite a long wait when you know what you're getting into.

Grandma Rose's Sticky Buns
makes around 15

1 package dry yeast
1 cup warm (not hot) water
1/4 cup granualted sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened (I used butter)
1 egg
3 1/2 cups flour

Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large mixing bowl. Stir in sugar, salt and butter and beaten egg, one at a time. Add flour, 1 cup at a time, beating well after 2nd cup. Mark remaining flour in until dough is easy to handle. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight or up to 4 days.

Caramel Nut Mix: Combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon. Melt 1/3 cup margarine (again, I used butter).

On floured board, roll dough into a 15x9 inch oblong. Spread with half of melted butter, covering it well, then sprinkle with sugar-cinnamon mixture.

Combine remaining melted margarine with 1/2 cup brown sugar, then spread in bottom of a greased 13x9 inch pan. Sprinkle 1 TB Karo white syrup (I used maple syrup) and 2/3 cup chopped pecans over mixture.

Roll dough up tightly beginning at wide end. Seal ends well. Cut into 1 inch slices and place in prepared pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place for about 1 and 1/2 hours (I left the pan on the kitch table all night long and it worked out fine).

Bake 20-25 minutes at 350°F/180°C. When taken out of oven, let sit for a few moments before turning out onto a rack to cool (or directly onto plates).

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Paris-Brest : The Trip Not Taken

Remember my adventures with making chocolate éclairs? No? Well, I sure do. I had to go about making the pâte à choux twice because they just wouldn't rise in the oven. My aunt Mimi had whipped out her recipe and they were perfect in a flash.
That's why I thought a Paris-Brest would be extra easy. I was wrong.

This time around, I had the perfect pâte à choux recipe from last time and a nice-looking recipe for the filling. Simply put, a Paris-Brest is a classic French dessert. You start by making a ring with the dough, which you then bake until puffy and golden. Believe me, puffy may be a cute word, but it becomes terribly mean and sly at times. Anyway, you slice the ring in half and fill it with a mix of crème patissière and buttercream, flavored with pralin, a blend of sugar, ground hazelnuts and ground almonds. Sounds good, right? Trust me, it is. Or it should be, anyway.

I was totally excited about baking a Paris-Brest. I couldn't walk by a pastry shop without peeking in to take a look at theirs. It goes without saying that I won't be playing "Show me yours, I'll show you mine" with a Paris-Brest and pastry shops anytime soon. Oh, those golden, slivered-almond-topped cakes, sprinkled with confectioner's sugar... I knew mine would be just like them. I just know it. How couldn't it, given my great pâte à choux recipe?

I went ahead and got started on my Paris-Brest. Everything was going well, and my ring looked great even before baking, even though I couldn't find slivered almonds anywhere and sprinkled almond powder on top. I should have taken it as a sign to stop right there and come up with something else, but I kept going. In the oven, it looked wonderful. "Make sure you don't open the oven door", my aunt said. So I didn't open the door, and when my ring was nice and golden, I turned the oven off. I opened the door just slightly...and down it went. Pfiou, as the French say.

Pfiou, plop, wiz, whatever you want to call it, I was mad. Good thing I had a lot of pâte à choux left, and proceeded to start over again, using the leftovers to pipe tiny chouquettes onto a baking sheet alongside my new and, hoperfully, improved Paris-Brest ring. This time around, I settled on leaving the oven door closed and letting them cool little by little. Golden and puffy, everything looked amazing. I switched the oven off and waited. Ten minutes later...


On the plus side, the filling I prepared while I watched the oven was great. Sweet, a little crunchy, and definitely tasty. Also, my Paris-Brest ring was a mess, but the chouquettes were a success. So I piped the cream into my floppy ring, just to say I actually did make that Paris-Brest, and piped the leftovers into a few chouquettes.

The Paris-Brest was alright--crème au praliné on five-day-old bread would probably taste good too--but I had just discovered something even better. Chouquettes au praliné. Who needs a Paris-Brest when you can have bite-sized tastes of heaven?

Yes, my Paris-Brest looked terrible. But isn't the best part of messing up discovering the little surprises hidden behind each failure?

Mimi's Pâte à Choux
Note: This makes a completely neutral dough--add some sugar or vanilla extract if you want it to be sweet

25cl water (I did half water, half milk)
60g butter
125g flour
4 eggs
Pinch salt

Bring water (or water + milk) to a boil in a saucepan.

Add butter and salt.

Sprinkle flour into saucepan, beating vigorously. On low heat, "dry" the dough out by beating it until it stops sticking to the pan. Remove from heat and add eggs one by one, mixing until well incorporated before adding the next one.

serves 2

Pâte à choux (approx. 1/4 of the recipe above, though I've never tried cutting it down)
8cl milk
1 egg yolk
40g softened butter
10g cornstarch
20g granulated sugar
40g powdered pralin

Bring milk to a boil. In a small bowl, beat yolk and sugar until light in color.

Add cornstarch, mix, and pour milk while beating everything together. Place in a saucepan over medium heat, beating until it starts to boil. Remove from heat and let cool.

Beat butter until fluffy. Add crème pâtissière (which you just made above), pralin, and beat on high if using a mixer.

Preheat oven to 180°C / 350°F.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pipe pâte à choux, making 1 ring, then another right around it. Finally, pipe a ring on top of the last two. Decorate with slivered almonds. Bake 30 minutes until golden, and let cool with the oven turned off, door left slightly open. (Well, that's supposed to work...)

Once the ring has cooled, slice it in half and pipe praline cream onto the bottom half. Cover with top half, and sprinkle powdered sugar on top.

Alternative: Make as many chouquettes as you want by piping small (about 2cm in diameter) balls of dough onto a baking sheet. Decorate with pearl sugar or slivered almonds. Bake 20 minutes at 180°C, or until golden. Cool using the same method as above.
Using a serrated knife, slice the chouquettes open halfway and pipe as much cream as you want inside.

Eat and enjoy!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lebkuchen, or the Cookies I'll never make on my own

I know it's only October and even Halloween hasn't come and gone, but once I get into the fall state of mind, all I can think about is the holiday season.

"Holiday" has a specific meaning for me--sure, I like Thanksgiving and all--but I'm mostly thinking about Christmas and that little day a month beforehand... my birthday. No, I'm no longer six years old or celebrating my sweet sixteen, but my birthday is admittedly my favorite day of the year. After October 20th rolls around, November 20th isn't far behind and I start getting into my own version of the holiday spirit.

When I'm in Saint Dié, not so far from the German border, this means indulging in feasts of gingerbread cookies dipped in hot chocolate milk. I'd love to tell you a story of how the recipe for these was passed down for generations and generations, but that's not how it goes. You know those German discount supermarkets like Lidl, Aldi, and Norma? That's where it all takes place. The earlier you go--end of October is perfect--the fresher these cookies are.

Covered in chocolate or thin sugary icing, they're called Lebkuchen and look somewhat like bells or Christmas trees. Some of them also have tiny colored sprinkles, and sprinkles have always had a strange appeal for me. All I remember from a long flight delay that got us stuck at the Chicago O'Hare Hilton when I was 5 is the donut with sprinkles I had at the hotel. I don't think I even liked donuts, but I sure liked sprinkles.

Anyway, these Lebkuchen signal the beginning of my favorite part of the year. And the ones we bought today were absolutely perfect and possibly the best I've ever had: moist, tasty, and colorful. They were as fresh as can be, and though I couldn't even wait to get home for the hot chocolate that usually goes along with it--the parking lot is a fine place for Lebkuchen--they were all I needed.

All I can say now is that Holiday Season, Lucie Version, looks like it's off to a good start.

P.S. : If you want to go ahead and make Lebkuchen, here's a recipe that looks nice.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Grandma's Apple Crisp

If you're living in France, you've probably been hearing about les crumbles quite a bit for the past few years. It started out as a "girly" dessert, with summer berries and a light crunch. Then, they discovered that the crumble could be adapted to any type of fruit, and even any type of chocolate. It became a staple in all the little trendy restaurants, and has now established itself as a classic. It reminds everyone of simpler times, when nobody was fussing over raspberry tiramisus or the ever-too-present pannacotta. Not to mention the crazy verrine fad, where pretty much everything was served in miniature glasses for a year.

(Side note: I was stuck at the train station yesterday and spent a good half hour at the bookstore, looking at cookbooks. Pannacotta here, pannacotta there...Seriously?)
Anyway, this doesn't mean that an apple crumble doesn't hit the spot on a cool fall day. It's sweet, tastes like cinnamon, and with melt-in-your-mouth apples that are hard to resist. I really like apple crumbles, but what I love even more are apple crisps.

It's easy to get lost between crumbles, crisps, buckles, brown bettys, and the like. From what I've seen, a lot of people consider an apple crisp to have rolled oats, whereas a crumble does not. Hmm. I think everyone probably has a different definiton, and my American Grandma's apple crisp sure is different.

First of all, there are no rolled oats. Next, when you eat a crumble, you usually (well, I speak for myself here) don't feel really full unless you eat a lot of it, or unless you have way too much vanilla ice cream to go along with it. Yes, I am speaking from experience.

With my Grandma's apple crisp, you definitely feel full afterwards. Granted, this might be because it's hard to stick to only a few bites, but still. The topping is similar to the topping you would find on an American-style apple pie but with a lot more going on--a lot of cinnamon, some sugar, and a delightfully crisp top.

Just one bite sent me back to when I was ten and we would spend Thanksgiving in Maryland. If anyone is looking for a crazy moment, I'd say have some apple crisp, don't take drugs. Just one bite with some brown sugar whipped cream, and I was sent swirling into a mix of yellows, oranges and reds. Visions of jumping into leaves and having a cup of hot chocolate à la maison. The fact that I'm writing this bundled up in a huge sweater and sitting by the fireplace in Saint-Dié is clearly contributing. And maybe the fact that my Aunt just whipped up a batch of fresh applesauce.

In any case, if you're looking for a true experience that leaves you completely amazed by the powers of apples, sugar, and cinnamon, trust me: apple crisp is the way to go.

Tastier than it looks.
The picture speaks for itself: taking a picture of my crisp wasn't even on my mind until the last few bites. And, the apple crisp looks and tastes infinitely better than it seems to on the phone-camera picture--I swear.

Grandma Rose's Apple Crisp

Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C.

Fill a 9x13 in. pan with peeled and cut baking apples. Add 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 2 TS cinnamon, 1/4 TS nutmeg and mix.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 3/4 TS salt, 1/2 TS baking powder, 1 egg, and a pinch of cinnamon. Spread on top of apples.

Melt 1/4 cup butter and pour over the entire pan. Bake for 20 minutes, and place under broiler for around 2 minutes, until slightly caramelized.

Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Note: I made brown sugar whipped cream (beat 1/4 cup heavy cream with 1 TB brown sugar until soft peaks form), and I use Vietnamese Cinnamon which, if you can find it--mine is from TJ Maxx--has a strong, amazing flavor.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Blondies, Cupcakes, and Fudge, Oh My!

You didn't seriously think I would only talk about the quiche and cake au chorizo I made the other day, and not the sweet part, did you?

My daddy was mentioning how it seems that the French attach a lot more importance to the difference between le salé and le sucré in a meal, and eating sweets before dinner, for example, is pretty uncommon. Even if I can eat any candy you want before dinner--I guess that's the American side of me--I do make a point to have both types represented when I cook for guests. Hey, my sweet and salty even get different tables in my teeny-tiny apartment.

Even though I love cooking main courses, the real fun always starts when I make dessert. This time around, I wanted to change things up and stray away from the temptation of my sour-cream chocolate cupcakes. They're so easy to make and super moist, but it was time to try something new. I was pretty disappointed with my red-velvet cupcakes when I first made them over a year ago, so I was determined to get them right this time around. And when it comes to getting a recipe right, the perfect thing to do is often to turn to Cook's Illustrated, or in this case the America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book. The only thing I changed from the recipe was to add less food coloring--and obviously my cupcakes were less-than-red--but they were indeed delicious.

I also baked what I like to call my blondie, adding a little more butter than usual for a successful result. For once, I "only" had three bite-size blondie squares, explaining why there is finally a picture up.

Here it is!

Baking is like getting married: besides having something blue, it's nice to get a mix of novelty and tradition. In search of a petit plus, a little sweet something that would add to the cupcakes and blondies, I immediately thought of my Grandma's fudge. All that sugar, butter and chocolate is as retro as can be, but also completely addicting. Did I mention that I wanted all of my fudge squares to be, well, square? That meant cutting the edges off. And who was I to decide that the uneven, ugly edges should go in the trash? I found a better place for those, and I'm sure you can guess that it wasn't outside or in someone else's stomach. No way.

Now that my teeth are probably set to hurt indefinitely because of my sugar intake, here are my recipes.

Then maybe we can start a club for people who could eat sweets at any time of day, even if they're French. Don't even think about it if you're the reasonable type.

(you can also find the lighter, chocolate-chip version here)

NB: adding more butter makes baking time a little longer, and also makes the blondies thicker.

6 TB melted butter
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. granulated sugar
1 cup flour
1 egg
1 TS vanilla extract
1 cup m&ms, or Smarties, depending on the country you're in and the supermarket you go to

Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C.

Mix melted butter and sugars until smooth. Add egg and vanilla, and flour. Mix until just combined.

Add M&Ms and combine. Place in a 8x8 (for thick blondies) or 9x13 (what I have) pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with a few delicious blondie-pieces attached.

Let cool (if you can resist) and cut into small squares.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
makes 24 cupcakes

2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 TS baking soda
pinch salt
1 cup buttermilk, room temp
2 large eggs
1 TB white vinegar
1 TB vanilla extract
2 TB natural cocoa powder
2 TB red food coloring
12 TB unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks, or approx 170g), softened
1 1/2 c. sugar

For Frosting (this is my recipe, in grams)
300g (2 packs) "nature à tartiner", or St. Moret
1/2 c. confectioner's sugar
2 TB sour cream
2 TS vanilla extract, more if needed

Heat the oven to 350°F / 180°C.

Whisk flour, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl. In another medium bowl, whisk the buttermilk, eggs, vinegar and vanilla together. In a small bowl, mix the cocoa and red food coloring together to a smooth paste.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by half of the buttermilk mixture. Repeat with half of the remaining flour mixture and the remaining buttermilk. Beat in the remaining flour mixture until just combined. Beat in the cocoa mixture until the batter is uniform.

Give the batter a final stir with a rubber spatula to make sure it is thoroughly combined. Place 1/4 cup throughout each lined muffin tin and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 15 to 20 minutes. Let them cool in tins for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Frosting: Beat all ingredients together until light and fluffy, adjusting sugar and vanilla to taste. Spread evenly on cupcakes or pipe.

Grandma's Fudge
I halved the recipe, making enough for a 9x13 rectangular pan and approx 30-40 bite-sized pieces

4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 c. butter (1 stick, or 113g)
1 can evaporated milk (lait concentré non sucré), 12 oz.
12 oz package of semi-sweet chocolate bits
Two 8 oz. Hershey Milk Chocolate Bars (I just went ahead and used Nestlé Dessert for the whole thing--if you've got better chocolate than Hershey's the fudge can only taste better!)
4 TB Marshmallow cream

Stir sugar, butter, and evaporated milk together and put on stove. Boil until soft ball stage (235°F) about 10 to 12 minutes. You will notice that it thickens.

Remove from stove and add chocolates; stir until blended.

Add Marshmallow cream for regular fudge (what I did) or...

Separate into two bowls. Add 2 large TB Marshmallow to one, and 2 large TB of peanut butter to the other.

Stir and put into 9x13 lightly greased pans. Cool in refrigerator, cut and serve.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Party is Always a Good Excuse to Cook

Most people have parties when they have something to celebrate, or at least when they have a reason to. I basically function in the opposite way: I feel like cooking, so why not have a party?

This led me to organize a little get-together last weekend with a dozen friends--who don't only enjoy eating chewy chocolate chip cookies, mind you, so I had to be a little creative. But creative is good, and exactly what I was looking for.

Obviously, I started with the sweetest things--not a reference to this past Sweetest Day--cupcakes and the like. I wanted to have the usual cupcakes, and mark a change from the cookies I usually have alongside them. Oh, that was difficult. Saying no to my favorite cookies is never easy. That is, until the idea of replacing them with M&M blondies comes along. Add some fudge to that and it's pretty easy to fathom, actually.

Then came the hard part. How much will people want to eat? Will they have had dinner beforehand? With these questions in mind, I set out to make some easy to munch on, savory bites. This is hopefully the last time I use the term "savory", which for some odd reason really gets to me.

Anyway, I immediately settled, as usual, on what we call un cake in French, customized to meet my chorizo and sundried tomato cravings. A creamy quiche wouldn't hurt either, I decided, and a get-together isn't really one without any veggies. But veggies don't go without a dip, and that's when I remembered the out-of-this-world black bean and chipotle dip my Maman made at a neighborhood cocktail party when I came home to visit in June. Making it just made me want to make it again and again and again--it's like a funner party version of vegetarian chili, which is perfect for the upcoming cold fall days.

With my shopping list on hand and a clear idea of what my get-together would look like, I set about making all of this. Thursday afternoon and all of Friday went by in a flash, but it was all for a good cause...seeing friends and satisfying my cooking craving!

Here are the "savory" (I'm waiting for the annoying word police) recipes, more to come later on my sweet adventures...

Cake au Chorizo et aux Tomates Sechées

4 eggs
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 pink bag of baking powder (11g, or approx 4 teaspoons I think?)
4.5 oz grated gruyère or emmental
1/2 of a full chorizo, skin removed and cut into thin slices
4 large sundried tomatoes, chopped

Preheat oven to 180°C / 350°F.

Mix eggs, oil, wine, and a pinch of pepper together. Beat until frothy.

Add flour, baking powder, cheese, chorizo and sundried tomatoes. Mix until just combined.

Bake in a loaf pan for about an hour, until a toothpick comes out clean. Since the chorizo and sundried tomatoes give off oil, don't be alarmed if you see oil bubbling around the edges--it will stop doing it after a few minutes!

Two-Pepper Quiche

Note: You could make your own pâte brisée, and that owuld probably be even better, but using a prepacked pure butter pâte brisée from the grocery store was fine for me!

1 tart shell
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 TB butter
2 eggs
3/4 c. milk (skim is fine)
1 c. crème liquide, i.e. whipping cream
as much grated cheese as you want (I used around 1/3 c. emmental)
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 370°F.

In a buttered tart pan, bake tart shell for 15 mins covered with parchment paper and pie weights.

Cook bell peppers in a pan on stovetop with 1/2 TB butter until softened, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Beat eggs, milk, cream, cheese, and any extra herbs you want to add.

Place bell peppers in tart shell, and cover with egg mixture. Bake 30 minutes, until golden.

Warm Black Bean & Chiptole Dip
serves 10-12

2 TB olive oil
2 med. tomatoes, cored and diced
2 TS salt
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 TB chili powder
2 15.5 oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed (I used red beans because black beans don't seem to exist over here)
2 canned chiptoles, minced + 3 TB adobo from can
3 TB cider vingar (or red-wine vinegar)
1 1/2 c. fresh corn (I used canned in a pinch)
1 1/2 c. grated Cheddar (I used Mimolette)
1 1/2 c. grated Monterey Jack (I used mozzarella...I know)
3/4 c. fresh cilantro

Heat oven to 425°F. Grease 1 1/2 Qt. baking dish with oil and line baking sheet with foil.

Set tomatoes in a colander and sprinkle with 1 TS salt.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high until simmering. Reduce to medium, add onion and 1 TS salt. Cook until softened, 4 to 6 minutes.

Add garlic and chili powder, cook 1 minute. Add half of the beans, the chipotle, adobo, and 3/4c. water. Bring to a boil.

Cook until liquid reduces by half, about 5 minutes. Transfer to food processor, add vinegar, and process until smooth.

Transfer to a large bowl. Add beans, tomatoes, corn, 1/2 of each cheese, and 1/2 c. cilantro. Mix and season to taste.

Transfer to a baking dish and sprinkle with remaning cheeses. Bake until cheese melts and browns around the edges, for around 15 minutes.

Sprinkle with remaining cilantro, serve with veggies and tortillas.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tarte au Citron

The tarte au citron is a dessert that seems totally simple at first glance. It's lemon curd on a sweet pastry crust. Easy does it, right?

Actually, not really.

A perfect lemon tart is tangy--tart, not to be redundant--but sweet, creamy but not overpoweringly so. The crust should come off as the perfect vehicle for the filling, bringing a nice buttery taste to the overall flavor. In that light, a perfect lemon tart is something hard to achieve.

After making Pierre Hermé's lemon curd for my macarons (right here), I wanted to give the tarte au citron a try. Anything lemon has always been a favorite of mine: lemon in perfume, lemon in candy, and did I mention lemon poppy seed muffins? My only issue with the Pierre Hermé recipe was the insane amount of butter. For macarons, where you've only got a small amount of curd in each, a lot of butter is good. For a whole tart? Not so sure. I browsed around and found a recipe that sounded nice on Saveur, and decided to adapt it to use the foolproof Pierre Hermé technique--rubbing the sugar and zest together really ups the lemon flavor.

My next little problem was with the crust. For sweet tarts, I've really become keen on making my own. French pre-made crusts are great for quiches and the like, but I wanted my crust to have that special something. However, my inexistant counter space makes it utterly impossible to roll out a crust. Actually, I don't even have a rolling pin--that's how impossible it is for me to do things like that in my crazy little kitchen. Was it possible to find a pâte sablée recipe that I could press into my tart pan? Actually, yes! Dorie Greenspan has a great recipe, and while it does necessitate a little space in a freezer (my freezer is sized like my kitchen, so that might eventually have become a problem), it's super easy to make.

My lemon tart recipe isn't one where you bake it all together. The filling and crust are made separately, and after a couple of hours in the fridge, the final result is pretty amazing. My tarte was tangy and creamy, just the way I wanted it to be. I think lemon tarts baked all together (by that I mean crust + filling baked at the same time) have more tang and less of the creamy consistency, so I'll have to give that a try next time. One of the high points was the crust: it complemented the filling really nicely and, I quote, "tasted like a sablé from Brittany". I'd say that's pretty good, isn't it?

But for now, my creamy tarte au citron was as yummy as could be. And isn't a slice of lemon tart kind of like having a last slice of summer?

Pâte Sablée : Sweet Pastry Dough
adapted from Dorie Greenspan

1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. confectioner's sugar
1/4 TS salt
9 TB very cold butter
1 large egg yolk

Pulse flour, confectioner's sugar and salt in a food processor.

Add butter and pulse until coarsely cut in.

Add egg yolk, pulsing for 10 seconds at a time until dough forms clumps and curds. At this point, the mixture starts to make a different sound in the food processor that you'll notice.

Knead dough, and press into a buttered tart pan. Cover and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Press foil against crust, and bake for approximately 30 minutes until golden. Decrease baking time by 5 minutes if you'll be rebaking the crust afterwards.

Crème au Citron : Lemon Curd
makes 2 1/2 cups, or enough for a French-sized tart

4 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
3/4 c. sugar
2/3 c. fresh lemon juice
8g lemon zest (approx. 1 TB)
145g (10 TB) cold butter, cut into pieces

Rub zest and sugar together.

Mix lemon juice, sugar/zest, and eggs together in a heatproof bowl. Place it over a pan of simmering water.

Cook, whisking constantly, until a thermometer reads 75°C.

Remove from heat; when temperature comes back down to 60°C, incorporate butter and mix for 5 minutes.

Cover surface with plastic wrap and set aside to let cool.

Refrigerate up to 2 weeks. When ready to use, pour into baked tart shell and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pulled Pork Sandwiches, or how I refuse to let Summer end

The weather has gotten chilly in Paris. Well, mostly rainy, but you can tell the colder days are coming. People will say that it's only normal for mid-October, but I'd rather side with all the other Parisians: as long as it's not snowing, you can still have dinner and drinks at a terrasse. Sure, you'll need to wear a jacket, but people-watching even throughout the early evening hours has the scent of summer that nobody wants to get rid of.

I'm feeling the same about cooking; while I'm starting to get excited about all the fall recipes and the cinnamon, pumpkin, and nutmeg that go along with them, I secretly long for lemonade and barbecue at the beach. When I had to plan dinner for two a few weeks ago, a barbecue at the beach is exactly what came to mind, in the form of all-American pulled pork sandwiches. Unfortunately, I don't have any red plastic baskets or sticky plastic glasses to go along with them, but it didn't stop my quest for an authentic pulled pork recipe...without a barbecue.

Ugly picture, Good food.

Slow-cooker recipes abound, but as usual, a small studio apartment doesn't really allow those kinds of folies. However, I have a great crockpot-type dish from DeBuyer that can go in and out of the oven--this was to be the stage of my pulled pork experience. I searched high and low for a good recipe, finding one with 500 comments on allrecipes.com. By the way, I always wonder how it must feel to have a near-perfect rating for your recipe and over 500 comments. Probably makes you want to write a cookbook, doesn't it?

Anyway, the recipe was for slow-cooker pulled pork, so I simply adapted it to oven cooking with my faitout. I went over to Monoprix to find "palette de porc", basically Boston butt, then to the anglo food store at République to get root beer and molasses, came home with said ingredients AND a 3 Musketeers bar, and was set to go.

One thing I forgot to mention is that the pork cooks in the root beer for approximately four hours (given the amount of pork I was cooking). And unfortunately for me, I strongly dislike root beer. My apartment being the size it is, there isn't really a way to close any door except the front door to stop the root beer smell from lingering all over the place. I put up with it, and was more than happy to find that my pork was as tender as could be and came apart without any effort at all. Once my batch of barbecue sauce was ready, I added it to the drained pork and put the crockpot on the stove, at low temp, for the remaining couple of hours.

Obviously, a pulled pork sandwich is nothing without an accompaniement. Toasted buns, a creamy yogurt coleslaw, and delicious chips were all that was needed.

I debated on whether I should buy sand and cover the floor to get that true barbecue feel, but honestly, my pulled pork meal had enough Summer infused in it.

Who needs an early Fall when you can have an endless Summer?

Oven-Cooked Pulled Pork Sandwiches
adapted from allrecipes.com serves 6

800g palette de porc, or Boston Butt
1 can root beer
Barbecue Sauce (see below)
6 toasted buns--brioche-type is best, but I used hamburger in a pinch.

Preheat oven to 130°C.
Cut large pieces of fat off the pork before cooking. Set pork in an oven-proof crockpot or faitout, and cover with can of root beer. Place lid on the dish and cook for approximately four hours.

Once pork is cooked--it should have gone from a light to a semi-dark color--drain and place pork back into the faitout. Using a fork, shred meat.
Pour barbecue sauce into the dish and mix with pork, covering and placing back into the oven for another hour.
(I started a little early, so ended up placing my faitout on the stove on low for another hour or so.)

Serve immediately with toasted buns and a side of coleslaw.

Barbecue Sauce
adapted from Cook's Illustrated makes 1 1/2 cups

1 cup ketchup
5 TB molasses
2 TB red-wine vinegar
2 TB Worcestershire sauce
2 TB Dijon mustard
1 TS hot pepper sauce
1/4 TS ground black pepper
2 TB vegetable oil
1 med garlic clove, minced
1 TS chili powder
1/4 TS cayenne pepper

Whisk ketchup, molasses, vinegar, Worcestershire, mustard, hot pepper sauce and pepper together in medium bowl.

Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat until simmering. Add garlic, chili powder and cayenne, cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Whisk in ketchup mixture and bring to boil, reduce heat to med-low and simmer gently, uncovered, until sauce is thickened, about 25 minutes. Cool sauce to room temperature before using. (Sauce can be refrigerated in airtight container for up to 1 week.)

Modified Coleslaw

1 green cabbage, shredded
1 large carrot, shredded
2 ribs celery, shredded
1/2 cup greek yogurt
1/4 cup sour cream
1 TB fresh lemon juice
1 TB red-wine vinegar
1 TB sugar
1 TB mustard
1 TS salt

Mix all ingredients for the sauce together. Add to vegetables and mix. Refrigerate for at least one hour prior to serving.