Tuesday, December 28, 2010

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Post-Christmas


What will you be doing on December 28th?

I've been spending a good part of my day throwing furtive glances around me. As I write this, I have one hand digging into a box of quince candied fruit squares (called pâte de fruit in France) because I just couldn't stand thinking about them anymore.

In front of me are three bowls. One is filled with lychees, and the other two are piled high with chocolate. If I round the corner near the fireplace, I head towards the cookie box. The kitchen is the riskiest zone in the house. You'll wish you were Shiva and had many more hands than you do now, just so you could dig into the box of candied chestnuts, the gingerbread house, caramel marshmallows, and a giant Toblerone all at once. I guess maybe I should put multiple arms on my Christmas list for next year.

Now, let's imagine you wanted to get a little work out by climbing up the stairs. Watch out! In my room are the contents of my Christmas stocking...more chocolate.

Some would say I'm living in paradise, and I pretty much agree. I must be dreaming, though. I think I need an extra chocolate just to make sure this is all real. Then again, my friends, this is Post-Christmas: time to eat vegetables, limit yourself to five chocolates a day, and stop putting your Christmas presents into piles just to look at them over and over again.

Who am I kidding? I do that with my Christmas presents all year long. I hope you had a wonderful holiday; I know I sure did. The days after Christmas make some people sad, but the only reason I can think of is that there's no more chocolate yule log left.

In France, the chocolate bûche is a classic--and usually my Maman's thing. I was always a big eater of bûche, but never tried my hand at making one until this year. And since I would rather eat something good than completely failed on Christmas day, I only did half of the work and teamed up with my Maman for the rest.

This would make a great dessert all throughout the holiday season, so if you're looking for a beautiful way to end a meal, give this recipe by the esteemed Jacques Pépin a try. It's tasty and light, so you'll be able to polish off the bowl of chocolates afterwards.

Sounds like a plan I would stick to.

Chocolate Yule Log
from The Art of Cooking by Jacques Pépin
serves 10 to 12

for Jelly Roll Cake:
8 eggs, separated
2/3 c. granulated sugar
1 TS vanilla
2/3 c. flour

for Chocolate Pastry Cream Filling:
3 egg yolks
1/3 c. granulted sugar
2 TB cornstarch
1 TS vanilla
1 1/2 c. milk
5 oz. bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, broken into pieces

for Rum-Chocolate Ganache:
4 oz. bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 TB dark rum

for Decorations (optional):
1/2 tube marzipan
food coloring

Make Jelly Roll Cake: Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C.

Beat 8 egg yolks, 2/3 c. sugar and vanilla together until very fluffy and smooth, approximately 1 minute. Add flour and whisk until smooth.

Beat egg whites until firm. Fold yolk mixture gently into whites.

Butter a parchment paper-lined jelly roll pan (12 x 16 in). Spread cake batter evenly on top.

Bake for approximately 15 minutes. Cake will deflate as it cools.

Make Pastry Cream: Beat egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch and vanilla together.

Meanwhile, bring milk to a boil. Pour boiling milk into yolk mixture, whisk, and return to saucepan. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, and boil for about 10 seconds. remove from heat.

Add chocolate and stir gently until chocolate is melted and evenly distributed. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate.

Assembly: When the pastry cream is cold, spread it on top of the cake (with parchment paper still underneath cake). Lift up the cake using the paper and roll it on itself. Wrap in parchment paper and refrigerate overnight or up to one day.

Finish Log: Cut off both ends at an angle--these ends will be used to make the "stumps" on top of the log.

Make ganache: Melt chocolate in a double boiler. Place cream and rum in a bowl and pour melted chocolate on top. Whisk for 15 to 30 seconds until mixture lightens slightly in color. Do not overwhisk, which would cause discoloration and hardening of the ganache. 

Coat cake with a small layer of ganache. Place "stumps" on top. Continue coating with ganache and using a fork, create a bark effect.

Optional: Using marzipan and food coloring, make marzipan leaves and mushrooms to place on log.

Refrigerate until serving. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

One Last Snickers Blondie

I think I'm on vacation.

Actually, I'm pretty sure you could call it an extended vacation. Truth is, I can't even count down the days until my vacation is over, because as of now it's a permanent situation.

You see, I'm done with my internship, and done with school. Does that mean I have to get a job? I think it does...

Can I just pretend I'll never have to, and bake Snickers blondies instead? Oh, I can hear you. You think Snickers blondies might be going a little overboard in the junk food category. I could have made Snickers - Mars - Peanut Butter Blondies, and then I might have gone a little too far. Maybe. Or maybe not: in France, the appreciation of a generic "American Baked Good" seems to be proportional to how much of a sugar and butter bomb it is.

In celebration of my last day at work, I brought Snickers blondies in honor of my co-workers, especially the Snickers aficionados among them. Taking pictures of baked goods is nice, but photos of friends enjoying them is even better.

After some awkward posing, I let them dive head-first into their blondies as a reward. I've come to realize that nothing makes you happier than a blondie, whatever the flavor. M&M's? I'm on it. White chocolate? Anytime.

Snickers? Well... chocolate, caramel, peanuts. In a blondie. Does this really need further explanation?

Snickers Blondies
makes approximately 20 bite-sized blondies

8 TB butter, melted
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 c. flour
1/2 TS salt
1 egg
1 TS vanilla extract
2 Snickers bars, chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C.

In a large bowl, mix butter and sugars. Add egg, vanilla, and whisk together.

Add flour and salt; mix to combine. Stir in Snickers bars and pour into a parchment paper-lined 8x8 inch pan.

Bake for approximately 30 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean but moistened.

Cool in pan and cut into pieces. Store in an airtight container.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Who Stole my Stollen?

Also known as,

"Why do I keep instant yeast with a December 2009 use-by date?"

Like with many a baked good not involving chocolate or obscene amounts of sugar, stollen and I have a rocky past.

For those of you unfamiliar with stollen, it is a bread-cake hybrid usually enjoyed during the Christmas season in Germany. Chock full of dried fruit, some versions also have an alluring marzipan center--you'll have no trouble guessing that's my favorite part.

When I was younger, I made a run for the chocolate or sugar-covered lebkuchen when Christmastime came around. My sister, meanwhile, indulged in stollen: the one thing I probably never tried to pry from her hands. I'd rather we didn't get into all those Barbie heads I pulled off. No, really, I'm not even sure that ever happened.

Fortunately for me and unfortunately for my calorie intake, I grew into loving every and any baked good I can get my hands on. Stollen is no exception. The yeasty cake is made even more moist thanks to raisins, almonds and candied zest. The taste doesn't scream "HOLIDAY SEASON!", yet hints at it with elegant subtelty.

Now, a stollen made with yeast that doesn't provoke any chemical reaction is another story. It becomes a denser block of dough and fruit--one with a marzipan filling. Meaning, I ate it anyway and it wasn't bad at all. And I guess even my sister agreed.

I'm quite positive, however, that Mary's recipe which I used and adapted according to what I had on hand is great--and all aspiring stolleners (stollen makers in made-up language) should have a go at it.

It's sure to be a Stollen Christmas--just don't tell anyone you're the thief.

Dresdner Stollen
makes two medium loaves
recipe adapted from One Perfect Bite

2 3/4 c.  flour
1/4 TS salt
1 scant TB instant yeast
1/2 c. milk
6 TB butter
1/4 c. sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3/4 c. dark raisins
3/4 c. white raisins
zest of one lemon
zest of one orange
1/2 c. lightly toasted chopped almonds
1 tube (6 to 7-ounces) almond paste
Confectioners' sugar

In a medium bowl, mix salt and flour. Microwave on high for 1 minute, or heat in a saucepan for 2 minutes, watching closely. Add yeast and whisk.

Heat butter, milk, and hugar in a saucepan over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and butter is melted. Let cool slightly. When mixture is tepid, add egg and whisk to combine.

Blend both mixtures together and add raisins and zest.

On a floured surface, knead for approximately 5 minutes. Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover and let sit in a warm spot until doubled in size (about two hours).

Separate dough into two logs, and flatten into rectangles. Add a log of almond paste in the center of each rectangle and roll dough around it. Pinch edges and turn the loaves seam side down.

Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, cover with a damp kitchen towel and let sit until doubled.

Preheat oven to 375°F / 190°C. Bake on the middle rack until golden, approximately 30 minutes.

Remove form oven, brush top with butter, and let cool 30 minutes. Dust with confectioner's sugar.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Workday Linzer Cookies

A bilingual post, specially in honor of my friend and colleague Aurélie's grandma:

I woke up this morning thinking I was going to cut back on the cookies for the week and a half up to Christmas...ha. Yeah right.

Enter Aurélie, the bearer of Christmas cookies, freshly baked by her grandma. Like the most meticulous of surgeons (and especially after scarfing down six of them), I dissected the cookie. Oh, I forgot to mention: this is a sandwich cookie. In other words, perfection.

Layer 1: Cookie. Is that hazelnut and almond powder I detect? A delightfully crisp texture: melt-in-your-mouth, yet it doesn't break apart. Ooh wee.

Layer 2: Jam! Visions of wrapping myself in my comforter and drinking hot chocolate start to burst forth.

Layer 3: Cookie again, with a hole (or two!) to see the jam. And, as the French say cerise sur le gâteau, a paper-thin layer of royal icing.

Three layers for the perfect workday snack. Although, all things told, I would gladly eat these weekday and weekend. The best part is, like all family-made cookies, I don't have the recipe. The mystery yummy.


Des gâteaux de Noël, rien de tel pour contrer un long lundi au travail. Au diable les envies de régime (comme tous les lundis, cette fois je m'y mets)...je me retrouve face à face avec un sachet rempli de gâteaux faits maison, qui plus est par la grand-mère de mon amie et collègue Aurélie.

Deux couches de sablé, délicieusement parfumé à ce qui semble être de la noisette et de l'amande...entourant une fine couche de confiture. Sans oublier un glaçage à peine visible à l'oeil nu, mais qui rajoute un petit quelque chose qui rend le biscuit parfait.

J'ai failli rentrer directement chez moi, sachet à la main, pour me cacher sous ma couette et les tremper dans une grande tasse de chocolat chaud... mais ça aurait été trop visible. Dommage. Je me suis donc contentée de garder la main dans le sac toute la journée. Une journée parfaite, quoi.

Merci mamie d'Aurélie!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Let It Snow Chocolate Crinkles

Every morning, on my way to work, I walk about thirty minutes.

When it was still summertime and the walk took me through a lush green park filled with tennis courts and children taking their lesson, it was actually quite nice. The sun was shining bright, the birds chirped, and I had a spring in my step on my way to work.

Fast-forward to December. By the time I'm on my way to work, the sun has barely risen, and chances are I'm trudging through rain, slush, or usually a mix of both. Everyone looks gloomy, hidden underneath scarves and coats and the morning fog. And the cute little park? Well, it's empty and filled with remnants of  fall leaves, making the ground slippery and forcing anyone to look at their feet rather than at the sky.

There is only one way I can get to work without becoming a grumpy employee these days, and I'm the first to admit it just might be a little ridiculous. I have a four-song playlist that I put on repeat, and every single one of those four songs is of the Christmas variety. Hey, I'm entitled to it: December 25th is less than three weeks away, after all.

Here's my problem, however: listening to Christmas songs triggers something in my organism. I get the Christmas bug. My mind functions like a flowchart: Christmas songs leads to Christmas decorations leads to Christmas baking leads to peppermint leads to peppermint cookies.

Yep, Christmas peppermint cookies. Add a little chocolate to that and you've got exactly what I made last weekend. Chewy, "snow-covered" (can I at least pretend?), with a chocolate-mint taste that's just right. In other words, perfect for the season.

Did I mention that that flowchart was just a branch in the "master flowchart" of Christmas? Christmas baking leads to almond paste, also leads to gingerbread, also leads to... you get the idea. Infinite possibilities for a cookie-covered Christmas. You'll be ready to take on that dirty weather.

Chocolate Peppermint Crinkles
adapted from the Betty Crocker Cooky Book
makes 3 dozen cookies

1/4 c. vegetable oil
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted
3/4 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 TS vanilla extract
1 TS peppermint extract
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 TS baking powder
1/4 TS salt
1/2 c. confectioners' sugar

Mix oil, chocolate and granulated sugar in a bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated. Add vanilla and peppermint extracts.

Stir flour, baking powder and salt into oil mixture. Chill several hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C when ready to bake.

Drop teaspoonfuls of dough into confectioners' sugar and shape into balls. Place on a baking sheet and bake approximately 10 minutes.

Cookies will keep for several days in an airtight container.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


There are times when you want it all at once.

Like that sundae at the diner that time. Remember that? You asked for ice cream, nuts, chocolate, caramel sauce, maraschino cherries...and sprinkles. Multicolored and chocolate. Oh, and slivered almonds too! Let's not think about the stomach ache that followed. Aftermaths don't matter.

Sometimes, you can't have it all. You can't have soup and an omelet in one dish--although technically you could try, but the soggy result might not delight you like a sundae would. But what about Thanksgiving? You know, the feast where you eat way too much, and all you're longing for might be a light dessert. I'm of the opinion that Thanksgiving is the perfect occasion to do an all-in-one dessert.

Coincidentally, is anyone tired of reading about Thanksgiving? I'm suspecting some of you saw the name of the holiday and thought of skipping to the next blog. Don't do that! You'll be missing the greatest all-in-one of history! Alright, maybe not, but now that everyone is done planning Thanksgiving, you can actually enjoy the recipes without the stress of having to plan anything. And this just might be a recipe worth enjoying...

Let's do this meditation-style: picture yourself in a dense forest, deep in the heart of Vermont, where maple syrup is like liquid gold. Got it? Alright. Now teleport yourself to the South, surrounded by mounds of pecan. Tasty, right? Now try to be in both places at once, covered in a flaky pie crust and topped with dark chocolate chunks (this is you we're talking about).

Surprise! You've just turned into a chocolate maple pecan pie. You're an all-in-one dessert, blending the creaminess of maple custard with the crunch of pecans and the depth of chocolate. Don't forget the crust, in perfect harmony with the rest.

Ready to be eaten?

Dark Chocolate Maple Pecan Pie
serves 6 to 8

for crust (adapted from America's Test Kitchen):
2 oz. cream cheese, softened
8 TB (or 1/2 c.) butter, softened
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 TB sugar
1/4 TS salt

for filling:
3 eggs
1/4 c. butter, melted
1/3 c. raw sugar
1/2 TS salt
1 c. maple syrup
1 1/2 c. toasted pecan halves

Make crust: in a food processor, process butter and cream cheese until smooth and combined. Scrape down sides of the bowl. Add dry ingredients and pulse until a coarse meal forms. Next, process until a ball forms.

Place dough on a floured surface and pat down, forming a disk. Place in a buttered and floured pie pan and press dough out using the heel of your hand. Press dough along the sides of the pie plate and crimp edges.

Cover and refrigerate pie crust at least one hour before using.

When ready to use, preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C. Prick bottom of the pie with a fork and cover with foil and pie weights. Bake until crust looks "dry", about 35 to 40 minutes.

Make pie filling: melt butter in a medium heatproof bowl. Add sugar and salt and beat well. Add eggs, one at a time, and maple syrup. Reheat over a pan of simmering water until warm to the touch. Stir in pecans.

Prepare pie: Preheat oven to 275°F / 135°C (if you turned it off earlier). Scatter chopped chocolate on the bottom of pie crust (still warm is best). Pour filling on top. Bake 50 minutes or until filling is just set.

Cool pie in pan and refrigerate. Serve at room temperature, with a side of vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

If you didn't have a waffle, you didn't go to Belgium

...which is exactly what my friend Claire and I kept repeating to ourselves on our three-day trip to Antwerp, a fashion-forward city in the Flemish part of Belgium.

The only issue was that we were already eating and drinking so many delicious things, that we didn't even have time for a "gaufre de Liège" until we were on our way down to the train station. But we did, in the end, have our waffle: crispy with caramelized sugar on the outside, dense yet airy on the inside. The Belgian waffle isn't your typical waffle--it's much better.
But let's take things from the start. Setting: a Northern European city in November, therefore meaning rain, wind, and low temperatures. The perfect excuse for multiple stops to cafés.

Our first day in Antwerp was a strange one: it was a national holiday, and the streets were eerily empty. We were on our own on the main street, walking against the wind, wondering where everyone had disappeared. We even started to wonder whether Antwerp really existed, or if we were caught in some kind of Truman Show-esque situation where everything was designed around us. It turns out, everyone was hiding out in restaurants. And who wouldn't? The food all around Antwerp was good (homemade soups, dark multigrain bread) and cheap: the aforementioned soup was priced between 3.50 and 5 euros where we went. The restaurants and cafés were cozy and unpretentious, and best of all, they weren't packed like they would be in Paris.

Antwerp is a cultural city: the famed designers collectively called the "Antwerp Six" are representative of the importance the city seems to attach to fashion and design. The museums are diverse and all have something different to offer, and if you're under 26, they're only one euro. If I still haven't managed to convince you, let me add that you can get delicious hot chocolate everywhere. Cheap, delicious hot chocolate.

And like every good tourist, never leave without a souvenir. In my case, it was Belgian chocolate bars from the supermarket. Chocolate...and chocolate sprinkles for toast. And 55% almond paste. And chocolate-covered toffee. I think you get the point.

Antwerp is pretty cool. And definitely cold.

Wet and cold, but always hungry.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Things to be Thankful For

Happy Thanksgiving!

Since I've been living in France, Thanksgiving has unfortunately been a sort of non-event for me. Every year, when late November comes around, my sister travels to Illinois to be with my parents and I...well, I just feel homesick.

Thanksgiving when I was younger meant ten hour-long car rides to Maryland, where all my aunts, uncles, and cousins met up for a feast my grandparents presided over. Honestly, I don't remember what we ate--although I know it was classic Thanksgiving fare--but the multitude of cousins running around the house was something I enjoyed. That, and the scrumptious sticky buns my grandmother made the next morning.

Although my Thanksgiving day was work-filled and I didn't get to share a piece of juicy turkey with my family this year, I still have quite a lot to be thankful for.

Like this, for example:

- Donuts with sprinkles

- A family I wouldn't exchange for a million dollars. Well, maybe a couple million. Just kidding though.

- Oh! More sprinkles! Supermarket sugar cookies. True happiness costs no more than fifty cents.

In Paris, people tend to be grumpy pretty much all the time but deep inside, you can tell they're thankful. Thankful for that delicious, fresh croissant, thankful for a free seat on the subway, or thankful for a square of luscious milk chocolate. As long as you're thankful for all the big and small things surrounding you, I'd say you're on the right track.

And now, that chocolate maple pecan pie is well-deserved!

Saturday, November 20, 2010


When Fall gives way to Winter, leaves disappear...leaving naked branches behind. 

What happens to arms and legs is inversely proportional.  Winter announces the beginning of what I like to call Layer Season. Forget about wearing a t-shirt: now, it's all about long sleeves plus various sweaters, a coat and a scarf. Layer Season comes and goes along its own agenda, depending on the years. And that is exactly why L.S. and I aren't buddy-buddy.

Remember, Layer Season, when you came along in October? I was six years old and I can tell you I still haven't forgotten. Forget being dressed as Snow White for Halloween...I was Snow White-in-a-Turtleneck. 

Nowadays, Layer Season making its appearance a little early isn't such an issue for me--after all, I now get to choose how I dress, and prefer to leave the turtlenecks behind pretty often. However, it seems this particular time of year has left an indelible mark on the way I bake, not the way I dress.

Summertime is all about the fresh berry tarts. Fall? Apple crisps, pumpkin muffins. And then comes a time when you get caught up in the moment, enjoying all the Fall spices and flavors. There you go--you feel like layering.

I've had one bad experience with layering before, and it involved a pumpkin pecan pie mishap. This time around, though, I went a lighter route: pumpkin and apples baked into delicious streusel-topped muffins. I'll admit it, Layer Season can have its benefits. Don't be afraid of overload with this recipe: the resulting muffins are surprisingly light, and easy to enjoy at any time of the day (i.e. you can even munch on them at work without falling asleep afterward).

So, thank you, Layer Season, for the inspiration. Just one last thing: next time I dress up as Cinderella, can you please stay out of the way for a while? Thanks.

Apple-Pumpkin Muffins
makes approximately 14
loosely adapted from Bon Appétit, Oct. 2001

for apples:
3 medium apples, peeled, cored and diced
1 TB butter
2 TB granulated sugar
1 TS cinnamon

for cake:
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. brown sugar
6 TB butter, room temperature
1/2 c. sour cream, light or regular
2 eggs
3/4 c. pumpkin puree
1 TS baking soda
2 TS pumpkin pie spice
1/2 TS cinnamon
1/2 TS salt

Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C.

Prepare apples: melt butter over medium heat. Add apples and and cook until they begin to brown. Add sugar and cinnamon, stir, and cook another 2 minutes.

In a medium bowl, mix butter, brown sugar, flour and salt together with your hands until a coarse meal forms. Set 1/2 c. of mixture aside for topping.

Add the following ingredients to the remaining flour mixture: pumpkin, sour cream, baking soda, and spices, until just combined. Add eggs one at a time.

Divide batter between greased or lined muffins pans. Top with apples, and sprinkle flour mixture on top.

Bake approximately one hour, until topping is golden. Serve warm with ice cream.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Taste Test: Fall Edition

One of my favorite parts of baking is getting to eat raw dough or batter.

 Ooh! Cookie dough
Oh, don't look at me like that. You know it's your favorite part too. Everyone's get their preferred tastes: I love anything from raw cookie dough to zucchini cake batter. My maman goes crazy for raw yeast, the one you get in cubes at the bakery here in France. I do, however, have a slight problem once Fall comes rolling around. I get the urge to bake with pumpkin (seemingly, as does everyone in the blogosphère, as the French call it) and look forward to having pumpkin muffins spiced with warm cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger. 

Thoughts of eating my weight in pumpkin cake batter pop up...and quickly disappear. I don't like cake batter with pumpkin. There. I said it. The taste doesn't really appeal to me, and a few spoonfuls is just enough before I remind myself that no, I don't really like this so yes, I should stop now.

I'm curious, though. Are there bakers out there (or just batter-eaters) who enjoy the taste of pumpkin puree before it gets baked into a lovely, orange loaf of everything autumn baking is supposed to be? Or is something wrong with me?
Not-so-appetizing (empty) bowl of pumpkin batter

Oh, and see that picture right there? That's a testament to the fact that I even eat batter when I don't really love it. My subconscious links the words "cake batter" to "hey, you're right, I am hungry!". 

Now, if only the words "chocolate" and "candy" could be linked to "oh thanks, I've had enough". That doesn't look like it's going to happen any time soon, unfortunately.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Tarte Tatin

I've been trying to imagine how someone who has never heard the name "Tarte Tatin" would go about pronouncing it if he or she saw it written somewhere. 

Let's say you're American. Would it be pronounced tar-tee tay-tin? I sometimes feel like going into a restaurant and ordering one with that pronunciation, just to watch the surrounding reactions. Acting funny (if the word stupid is coming to mind, trust me, you're on the wrong path here...maybe) in restaurants is a family thing, I guess. My dad and I have a long-standing tradition of getting a gyro on Saturdays for lunch, and they ask you for your name at the counter. Let's just say that my dad has been a great number of actors and politicians throughout the years for the gyros staff. Oh, and did I mention they call out your name so you can go pick up your order? I must be a weird kid, because I'm twenty three and it still makes me laugh.

If you're not the type to laugh at embarrassing situations in public, you've got two solutions regarding tarte tatin. Actually, three: the first would be never to have tarte tatin in your whole life (and you'd be missing out). The second would be to know that tarte tatin is pronounced "tart tah-tan", or pretty close to that. The third way to go would be to make your own, so you never have to say it out loud. And, you can eat as much as you want. As you can guess, I like the third option.

So what is tarte tatin, exactly? Apples are baked in a skillet with a lot of delicious salted butter caramel, covered with a thick sheet of puff pastry, and placed in the oven to become golden and delicious. That's pretty much all you need to know. And for those of you cringing at the thought of making your own puff pastry, store-bought is fine as long as it's thick enough (otherwise, use two sheets) and made with real butter. For those living in France, the best way to go if you're in a hurry is probably to convince your baker to sell you a block.

And for the record, hearing "apple pie" pronounced by a non-English speaker is pretty nice too. I've heard "a-pell pee"...something worth trying on my next trip to the US.

Tarte Tatin
serves 6 to 8

10 medium baking apples, peeled, cored and halved
7 TB salted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 c. + 2 TB sugar
1 thick sheet puff pastry (thawed if buying frozen)

Heat an oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle sugar into skillet and let it melt until you have an amber-colored caramel, stirring as needed. Add butter and whisk well until melted and homogenous. Remove from heat.

Arrange apple halves in skillet so that they stack up against one another like falling dominos.  Cook over medium-high heat until apples are soft, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C. Cut a thick sheet of puff pastry (or stack two sheets if using a thin version) the size of the skillet. Cover apples and "tuck" the edges of the puff pastry in.

Bake 30 minutes or until puff pastry is nice and golden. Let cool in skillet before inverting onto a plate.

Can be served warm or cool, with cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A New Take on Carrot Cake

Carrot cake is a funny little creature.

It is cherished and loved as a classic of American baking in the United States, yet it surprises more than a few here in France. Just like zucchini cake, when I excitedly mention that it's on the menu for this weekend, I get strange stares.

"You mean... carrot. In a cake? With sugar?" Cue strange looks and eyebrow raises. Just try adding that the frosting is made with cream cheese, and now you really sound weird.

"How can a cake made with vegetables and covered in cheese mixed with sugar actually be good?" The only way to answer that question is to give everyone a taste. Or, you could tone it down a bit and pair a carrot cake with another kind of frosting.

Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting used to be une évidence. I couldn't think of enjoying it with a regular buttercream frosting, let alone some kind of whipped cream. No siree, I needed the lightly sweetened tang of a true cream cheese frosting. However, as I got ready to host a pre-Halloween party this year, images of carrot cake and chocolate sour cream frosting started blossoming in my mind. Why not change things up for once? I'll admit another reason was that none of my other desserts had any chocolate in them. And a party without chocolate, well, it's just not a party.

The sour cream in the frosting imparts a very slight acidic note that, like its cousin cream cheese frosting over there, is a welcome complement to the warm spices in the carrot cake. Sour cream in the cake also guarantees you've got a super moist crumb.

In the form of mini cupcakes, they're the perfect size not to scare anyone away: bite by bite, I'm on a quest to reconcile everyone with vegetables in sweet desserts. Up next: bell peppers? Broccoli? I might just stick with pumpkin.

Carrot Cupcakes and Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting
makes 24 cupcakes

for the cake:

2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 heaping TS baking powder
1 TS baking soda
1/2 TS salt
1 TS ground cinnamon
1 TS pumpkin pie spice
4 eggs
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
1/2 c. vegetable oil
3/4 c. sour cream
1 lb. carrots, grated

Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C.

Line a muffin pan with liners or grease pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.

In a large bowl, beat eggs and sugars until mixture is frothy. Slowly add in oil and sour cream; whisk until well combined. Add flour mixture until just incorporated. Stir in carrots.

Fill cupcake liners about 3/4 of the way and bake 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out with a few crumbs attached. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Frost when cool.

for the frosting: right here!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Financial Situation

Technology is a great thing.

It used to be that to know how much money was left on your account, you had to keep track of what you spent in a little notebook. It has its appeal: every time you spend money, you have to write it down and remind yourself of why you bought it. Or remind yourself of why you really didn't need it.

Now, all you have to do is click on a link that lets you see exactly how much you spent, when, and where. You can spend money and forget about it until the next time you go online! (Rest assured, I don't really do that, and yes, this is a message for my parents.)

However, there's one item in the financial wor(l)d that stays the same with or without technology. I'm talking about the financier. In fact, it gets better: take a classic financier (like the one right here), switch up a couple ingredients, and you've got an altogether different version that still tastes amazing.

It's soft, buttery, and it melts in your mouth: ladies and gentlemen, I'm proud to introduce the pistachio financier. Baked in a mini muffin pan, they become bite-sized cakes that you can't really resist. If you look at the picture above, you could even pretend they're pears and therefore absolutely good for you. The pistachio taste is actually pretty faint and the almonds tend to take the lead, but the two blend together in a really pleasant way.

Or, you could take them for what they're worth: a great bribe. 

They're green like dollar bills (handy!), and who said the world of finance never involved a little bribing here and there?

Pistachio Financiers
makes 24 mini financiers

1/2 c. butter, melted and cooled
1/3 c. confectioner's sugar
1/2 c; all-purpose flour
1/3 c. ground pistachios
3/4 c. ground almonds
1 TS baking powder
4 egg whites

In a large bowl, whisk sugar, flour, pistachios, almonds, and baking powder together.

Add egg whites one by one and stir delicately. Add melted butter and mix. Place batter in an airtight container and refrigerate anywhere from 12 hours to 3 days.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 410°F/210°C.

Grease a mini-muffin pan or mini financier pan. Fill with batter (3/4 of the way up) and bake 6 to 8 minutes until golden.

Let cool slightly in pan and invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Financiers are best eaten the day they are made but can be kept up to two days in an airtight container.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Flan: A Hidden Treasure

When you peer into the window of a traditional French bakery, you may feel a little overwhelmed.

So many individual cakes to choose from, not to mention an impressive array of pastries ranging from a chocolate éclair to a tasty chausson aux pommes. Usually, though, you might have a precise idea of what it is exactly you're in the mood for. I've been known to think of a pain au chocolat for a few hours until I could actually go out, walk (alright, walk very fast...and maybe even run) to the nearest boulangerie and grab a warm, buttery rectangle of happiness. In that case, you don't really see what else is in the window because you just don't really care.

For the times when you do look in the window, however, there's a classic that often goes unnoticed: the flan. Also called flan pâtissier or flan parisien, it's a pastry crust filled with a sweet egg custard that bakes into a beautiful, dense yet creamy dessert. Flan is sold in large slices, and I can understand that a slice of yellow custard may not seem amazing next to a pistachio-green religieuse for some. Many of my friends aren't huge fans of the taste of flan, either--it's easy to have a bad experience with an altogether too sweet and too "eggy" supermarket version.

 Rustic and delicious.

As for me, I was completely unopinionated about flan until last summer, when my Maman made Pierre Hermé's water-based version. It was delicious and made me add flan to my (very long) list of desserts I could eat all day long, but it was also quite time consuming. When I came across pastry chef Christophe Michalak's quick and easy version of a crust-less flan, I had to give it a try.

You might miss the pastry crust, but the flan is definitely a keeper. It comes together quickly and doesn't disappoint: the texture is just dense enough, without becoming rubbery. The distinct creamy taste is present but doesn't overwhelm. 

Try it out, just this once. You might never look at that lonely slice of flan the same again.

Crust-less Flan
adapted from Christophe Michalak
serves 6

2 c. milk (any kind will work but whole yields a richer custard)
1 c. heavy cream
5 egg yolks
1/2 c. + 1 TB granulated sugar
1/3 c. cornstarch
1 TS vanilla extract

Butter and flour an 8-inch pastry circle or 6 individual pastry circles (if you don't have these, you can use a cake pan but you may have a harder time removing the flan).

Bring milk and cream to a boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat.

In a medium bowl, beat egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch. Pour in boiling milk and cream, mix, and place mixture in saucepan. Cook for another 30 seconds after it starts to boil again. 

Place custard in a shallow baking dish and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it against the custard. Refrigerate until cool.

Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C.

Place pastry circle(s) on a baking sheet covered with a baking mat or parchment paper. Remove custard from the fridge, whisk, and pour into pastry circle; smooth top. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until top is very golden. 

Cool and remove pastry circle. Serve cold. This flan can be kept in the refrigerator, covered, for up to two days.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Apple and Fromage Blanc Everyday Cake

Bikini season is back. Get ready, everyone! Time to go on weird diets, sigh about why you couldn't resist having that slice of chocolate cake last night, and page through articles that seem to focus on the only important topic of the season: your bikini-ready body.

Oh, I'm sorry, I thought it was the month of May for a second. Last weekend, I was lying around the park next to my apartment in Paris wearing a tank top and reading cooking magazines. I was really convinced that maybe I had gotten it all wrong--my calendar was tricking me into thinking it was Fall, and what was I still doing at my internship?

Reality came back and smacked me upside the head last week, when I had to get out one of my lighter Winter coats for the morning walk from the subway to work. However, during that small time frame in which I was ready to drink celery juice and nothing else for a week to get rid of those "unsightly bulges", I did a little light baking.

(I'm kidding, really. I would never have only celery juice for a week. Maybe celery juice once a week. And chocolate milk the rest of the time, because dairy products are really important and my magnesium supply is quickly depleting.)

The French counterpart of the American cheesecake is the gâteau au fromage blanc. It is made with fromage blanc, a thick yogurt-type product that's great with honey, jam, or a little sugar. Gâteau au fromage blanc is tall and proud, like a cheesecake, but has a much lighter texture and isn't as creamy as cheesecake.

Fat-free fromage blanc cake in the nude. This one's ready for her bikini.

I usually buy huge tubs of fat-free fromage blanc, a perfect vehicle for homemade jam from my aunt Mimi. One evening, I looked over at the bag of apples, also from the garden in the Vosges, and decided I wanted a gâteau au fromage blanc with stewed apples. All I had was the fat-free version, and I guessed early on that the texture would be completely different--which it was. However, for a quick, weeknight dessert, this hit the spot. Not too sweet but tasting distinctly of Fall with a hint of cinnamon, it's a light treat everyone is sure to enjoy--add a little caramel and you've got a more decadent treat.

I guess I could feel that Fall wasn't that far away when I opted for the cinnamon with the stewed apples. You've got to come back to the real world, someday. A real world that, in my case, involved a diet of hot chocolate milk: Winter is just around the corner.

Apple and Fromage Blanc Cake
serves 4 to 6

4 c. fat-free fromage blanc
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. granulated sugar
3 eggs
1/2 TS vanilla extract
1 TS baking powder
zest of 1 lemon, optional

2 large apples, sliced into eighths
1 TS cinnamon
1/2 TB butter
2 TB granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter. When bubbling, add apples and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Cook until golden.

Meanwhile, combine flour and baking powder in a medium bowl.

Beat egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl. Add vanilla and lemon zest if using. Refrigerate.

In a medium bowl, beat egg whites to stiff peaks.

Combine fromage blanc and egg yolk mixture. Add flour mixture and stire to combine. Delicately incorporate egg whites.

Place cooked apples at the bottom of a round 8 or 9-inch cake pan. Pour fromage blanc mixture on top.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes until top is golden. Let cool in pan and refrigerate until serving.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Des Cookies Bien Etranges

A post in French to celebrate Momofuku's Compost Cookies! 

Etes-vous très sucré-salé? 
Voici une question qui peut être à l'origine de bien des débats. Jetez un rapide coup d'oeil aux émissions culinaires à la télé: Virginie n'a pas voulu de l'agneau rôti au miel; Laure, elle, n'aime pas vraiment l'association du sucré salé dans les brochettes satay. Non, pas leur truc. Vraiment pas.

Un petit tour du côté des Américains et là, tout change. Le sucré salé, ils en ont fait une spécialité. Un petit creux? Des pretzels enrobés de chocolat sont là pour vous faire oublier votre faim...à moins que vous soyez plus patate douce-marshmallow. Par contre, dans ce cas, il faudra repasser: c'est un plat uniquement servi à Thanksgiving.

En attendant la fin Novembre, on peut facilement céder à ses envies de sucré salé en faisant une chose: n'importe quoi. 

Le Momofuku Milk Bar à New York, célèbre pour les créations étranges de Cristina Tosi, a compris l'importance du "grand n'importe quoi" dans la gourmandise de sa clientèle. Auparavant accros à la Crack Pie, une tarte sucrée et syrupeuse comme seuls les américains savent en faire, voilà qu'ils ne jurent plus que par le Compost Cookie. Compost, pour faire court, c'est le déchet. Dans le Compost Cookie, donc, on met tout ce qu'on trouve au fond du placard. 

Le résultat? Un cookie moelleux riche en chocolat, noix, pretzels...et même en chips, si ça vous chante. De quoi rendre accro la plus réticente des Virginie ou Laure.

Parfois, le grand n'importe quoi, ça a du bon. Du très bon, même.

Compost Cookies
adaptés du Momofuku Milk Bar
pour environ 12 cookies

100 g sucre en poudre
75g cassonade ou vergeoise
110 g beurre à température ambiante
90 g farine
1 cc sel
1 cc levure chimique
1/2 cc bicarbonate de soude
1/2 cs corn syrup ou golden syrup
1 oeuf
1/2 cc extrait de vanille liquide
75 g de vos ingrédients de pâtisserie préferés
75 g de vos biscuits apéritifs préferés (Tuc, pretzels, 3D...on évite le goût bacon ou fromage!)

Dans un mixer ou à l'aide d'un batteur éléctrique, battre le beurre, corn syrup et sucres jusqu'à ce que le mélange soit clair et crémeux.

Ajouter l'oeuf et la vanille. Battre à grande vitesse pendant 5 à 10 minutes: le élange devrait palir et quasiment doubler de volume.

Ajouter délicatement la farine, le bicarbonate de soude, la levure chimique et le sel. Mélanger délicatement en incorporant les ingrédients restants (chocolat, chips, etc.).

Placer des boules de pâte sur un papier sulfurisé et refrigerer au moins une heure.

Cuire 9 à 11 minutes dans un four préchauffé à 200°C.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dark Chocolate Pretzel Tartelettes

She elicits oohs and aahs

When they see her for the first time, she doesn't stand out that much. She's somewhat drab, next to her rainbow-colored counterparts. She doesn't have that special intricate detail that the others do. Nobody really stands in front of her, longing with desire for minutes on end before someone comes along to pull them away. Some would even say she's sort of a plain Jane. 

For those who decide to look beyond her drastically simple exterior and see her inside beauty, there is something different. She's not light as air, like the others. Look deep inside and what you'll see is a statement, a true personality. 

She's bold: she won't lead you on, making you believe she's something she isn't. She is also complex; you can only get to know her over time, letting every word she feeds you linger, taking the time to decipher its true meaning. She is smooth on the inside, beneath her cold, shiny surface. Her hard shell is only there to better complement the intensity she keeps hidden.

When you get to know her, she can become an addiction. You start out by saying the conversation will last two minutes or so, before you move onto something else. Such is not the case: she pulls you in, you can't get enough, and next thing you know, she's gone.

You just ate a dark chocolate pretzel tartelette.

Dark Chocolate Pretzel Tartelettes
makes five
crust recipe adapted from Food & Wine

for tartelette crust:
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 1/4 c. crushed pretzels
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. confectioner's sugar
1 egg

In a stand mixer or food processor, beat butter with pretzels and confectioner's sugar until light and creamy. Add flour and egg and beat until combined.

Press dough into buttered tartelette pans and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C. Place a sheet of parchment paper and pie weights on top of each tartelette to prevent dough from puffing up. Bake 15 minutes until edges appear golden. Remove weights and parchment paper, and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until crust is fragrant and golden.

Let cool and fill with ganache (see below for recipe).

Refrigerate at least two hours before serving.

for dark chocolate ganache:
200g dark chocolate, chopped
1 c. heavy cream

Place chopped chocolate in a food processor.

Scald heavy cream in a heavy bottomed saucepan (bubbles should appear at sides). Pour cream over chocolate and process until smooth.

Use immediately to fill tartelettes.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Happy Birthday, French Style

How do you imagine your perfect birthday cake?

Is it a mountain of yellow cake smeared with billowy buttercream, or something more along the lines of a dark chocolate tart?

Maybe it's easier to start along the lines of what someone woudln't want in a birthday cake. Take my sister, for example. She wouldn't want ginger in her cake, no way. Cooked fruit wouldn't really make her very happy either. As for orange blossom, well, she's allergic to it.

This is why my sister's birthday cake had orange blossom mousse. No joke. Obviously, I wasn't planning a remake of a Roman tragedy: my sister falling over in the middle of a restaurant clearly wasn't my goal. I wanted her to fall over, sure, but in surprise, joy and excitement over the fact that it was her birthday and she was spending it in Paris. So let's make something clear: she's mildly allergic to orange blossom, but loves it. And what my sister loves, I do. (Aww.)

A french party cake isn't usually a butter or oil cake like you find in the United States. In France it's all about the génoise. Genoise is a sponge cake, made mostly with eggs and hardly any butter. The result is light and airy, and filled with mousse, it becomes a great dessert for any occasion. Frost it with almond dark chocolate ganache, and then, you've got yourself a proper birthday cake.

What better way to celebrate a birthday in France than a French birthday cake? Having it sliced, plated and served in a restaurant probably belongs on that list--but maybe I was the one falling over at that point.

After her allergy headache went away, my sister's verdict was that this was quite a tasty cake. For anyone who enjoys orange blossom and almonds (allergies or not, but watch out though), this cake is a great way to have the two flavors meld together without being overwhelming.

And since I didn't do enough overwhelming with the cake, I'll be overwhelming in my extension of what a "birthday weekend" really is. It's already Thursday, six whole days later, but that's alright:

Happy Birthday, Biquetta!

makes one 9-inch cake

4 eggs, separated
1c. + 2 TB granulated sugar
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 1/2 TS baking powder

Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C.

Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan.

In a medium bowl, mix flour and baking powder.

Beat egg whites to stiff peaks in a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer. Add sugar and keep beating at medium speed. Decrease speed, add egg yolks all at once, followed by flour mixture.

Beat until just incorporated and immediately pour into cake pan. Bake until golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 30 minutes.

Let cool in pan. Serve the same day or the next. The génoise can also be frozen if well-wrapped.

To assemble cake: cut génoise in half and spread mousse between layers. Cover with ganache frosting and decorate with toasted almonds.

Orange Blossom Mousse
makes 500g mousse, more than enough to fill a 9-inch cake

6.5 TB water
1 1/2 TB orange blossom water
1 TB powdered gelatin
1 1/2 c. Italian Meringue (recipe follows)
1 3/4 c. whipped cream

for Italian Meringue:
3 egg whites
1/4 c. water
1 3/4 c. + 1.5 TB granulated sugar
Boil water and sugar until mixture reaches 240°F on a candy thermometer.

Beat egg whites to soft peaks on high speed. reduce speed to medium and add syrup. Beat until mixture cools slightly.

for Mousse:

Heat water, orange blossom water and powdered gelatin until dissolved.

Delicately mix Italian meringue and whipped cream. Add water/gelatin mixture and combine. Use immediately or refrigerate up to one day before using.

Dark Chocolate Almond Ganache
makes enough to frost a 9-inch cake

7 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
1 c. heavy cream
1 TS almond extract

Place chopped chocolate in the bowl of a food processor.

Scald heavy cream until bubbles appear at the sides of the saucepan.

Pour cream  and almond extract over chopped chocolate and process for approximately one minute until smooth. Pour into a dish and refrigerate, stirring every hour, for several hours or until you reach desired consistency.

Frost cake immediately, or refrigerate ganache until ready to use. Bring to room temperature before using.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Danette: A National Dessert

Step into a French grocery store, big or small, and walk towards the yogurt and refrigerated dessert aisle.

What you'll notice first is the stunning variety of products, similar to the cereal aisle in the United States yet so different from the yogurt selection you would find there. In France, yogurt and crème dessert are found in nearly every family's fridge.

Look back at the aisle in the grocery store. There will be a large section devoted to colorful packs of four individual dessert puddings: Danettes.

A quick YouTube search of "Danette" will show you just how impactful their advertising, with the popular slogan "On se lève tous pour Danette" ("Everybody rises for Danette"), has been throughout the years. First introduced in 1970, you can now find fifteen flavors at any given time. They range from the classic vanilla or chocolate, to the more daring extra dark chocolate, vanilla-caramel, or pistachio. Watch out, though: don't get these confused with Jell-O pudding. Danettes are primarily made with whole milk and have a true creamy taste that you don't find in any other industrial dessert.

Peek into the fridge of any French pudding aficionado--whether they're 10 or 100 years old--and there's a good chance you'll find a tub of Danette. My personal preference is the extra dark chocolate, but give me any other flavor and I'll be more than happy to devour it.

Since Danette was created in 1970, exactly forty years ago, they decided to celebrate with a bang. A beang, meaning a huge Danette free-for-all in the heart of Paris. For a week in mid-September, you could walk right into the Danette "pop-up store" in the first arrondissement and have your pick of one of the fifteen flavors, with an array of crunchy toppings: coconut, crispy chocolate cereal, you name it. Once you grabbed your Danette, you could head over to the baking space, where a chef demonstrated how to use Danettes in baked goods, namely chocolate tart.

Of course, the best part was going back outside with your Danette in hand. One look around you and it was pretty easy to notice that everyone was looking at you--with an extreme sensation of jealousy.

As they say, on se lève tous pour Danette. In some countries, you rise for a flag. In others, well, it's all about dessert.