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, 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.