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.