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.