Croissants aux amandes

September 27, 2011 § 5 Comments

The funny thing about having a blog is that sometimes I get confused and start thinking of it like a diary. I start writing and quickly realize that the blank word document I’m filling up with words is completely unpublishable. And then I have to start all over from scratch. It’s unfortunately like admitting that my life isn’t as fancy and perfect like the pictures ready to be uploaded.

Awhile ago, we had a perfect Saturday morning in San Francisco — the sun was out for once, and on the drive home, we stopped at a café — a little hole in the wall, with brilliant sunflowers atop each industrial table — in the area for a cappuccino and pastry. I thought of it when my mother said the family was going to the connected restaurant that night for dinner. I thought of it during a particularly hard week at school, which, thankfully (big decisions made, tears shed and cakes baked) is finally over. I thought of sitting in the café as I readjusted my morning routine in my dorm room, which I am ashamed to say generally consists of energy bars and instant oatmeal.

There are days here when I can’t believe how much I missed these friends while I was away; and then there are days when being back here feels like being locked in a little box with no air to breathe (the humidity maybe doesn’t help that matter). Sorry I think I reverted into diary mode, but the truth is, something like the picture below would never have happened here, simply because the idea of doing approximately 1,000 turns and folds of the dough is unfeasible given the lack of time and equipment on hand. It’s frustrating, and oh I could go on and on about it, but I’ll stop — there’s an almond croissant waiting for you, soft, crusty, with marzipan spilling out from the edges and almond flakes falling off the sides.

I made these for the September Daring Bakers‘ Challenge, which was “Fresh, FLuffy, French Croissants.” To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t a big fan of the dough, I found it rather salty when not accompanied by a sweet filling, much more like a very buttery roll than a flakey pastry. The recipe we used was from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two by Julia Child and Simone Beck, and it took about 20 hours from start to finish, including an overnight rise in the fridge. I definitely think croissants are something to be attempted at least once in a lifetime, but I can’t say a repeat is in my future anytime soon. Not when there’s a bakery around the corner.

*The Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child!*

Creamy Dreamy Crunchy February

February 27, 2011 § 1 Comment

I’m not one of those bakers that will make ten batches of things before getting them right. That’s not a statement of perfection; rather, that means I’m not going to whip up batch after batch of macaron batter to finally, haphazardly, get the highly-sought after feet on one tray of cookies. I wish I was that dedicated. Realistically, I’ll likely make two batches before giving up. I read descriptions of that process like this and can only be in awe of the dedication and say that this is probably why I am not pursuing a career as a pastry chef.

I’m coming up on a year since my whole life at college seemed like it was falling apart, and while I’m not sure I can realistically say that I am much closer to figuring out what I want to be in life, I can say that I am in a much better place than I was last spring. Sometimes I wonder if I was meant to be sitting on the kitchen floor at home watching cookies fail this spring, whether I was meant to be planning a trip to an Italian farm this summer, instead of frantically applying to the next prestigious internship, what I would be doing this year if things had worked out a little differently. But sometimes I think about how great it was to have an opportunity to take a step back and evaluate all the things in my life that were making me unhappy at the moment, even if that opportunity came with realizing that I was more unhappy than I had ever cared to admit.

Sure there are certain aspects of school that I really miss. I was sitting in a UCLA dining hall the other morning, for that Sunday morning brunch when everyone is in a weird daze and it’s likely that a quick and thorough scan of the room is necessary before choosing a table because of some awkward encounter the night before, and realized that I really missed recapping the night before over dining hall bagels. I missed walking around in Nike shorts 24/7, compulsive trips to the local froyo shop, the little things. And then there are the huge things that I don’t miss at all.

During that time last year, I spent a lot of time with my hallmates in the kitchen down the hall from our rooms, making cakes and cookies and the insane salted caramel bacon brownies, which I think are still the item of my blog with the most search-engine hits. Now as I’m setting up the lighting in the dining room, it’s easy to forget that this started out as me baking out of a dorm kitchen. It’s kind of comforting to have your progress over the past year very well documented; it makes you feel like you’ve already grown up even when you’re freaking out about having to be a grown up.

Speaking to growing up, a bunch of childhood seems to come up in the form of dishes as I’m rooting through items to use in photoshoots. Like these shot glasses I picked up on an obscure beach in British Columbia before I knew what a shot glass was. I made vanilla panna cotta when I got home from LA this evening, pictured alongside cranberry-cocao nib florentines. And yes, I made the florentines twice but not more than that.

The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies. I actually used a recipe from Joy of Cooking for the florentines, as I thought an almond version looked more traditional that one using rolled oats.

Panna Cotta

1 cup (240 ml) whole milk
1 tablespoon (one packet) (15 ml) (7 gm) (¼ oz) unflavored powdered gelatin
3 cups (720 ml) whipping cream (30+% butterfat)
1/3 cup (80 ml) honey
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (15 gm) (½ oz) granulated sugar
pinch of salt

Pour the milk into a bowl or pot and sprinkle gelatin evenly and thinly over the milk (make sure the bowl/pot is cold by placing the bowl/pot in the refrigerator for a few minutes before you start making the Panna Cotta). Let stand for 5 minutes to soften the gelatin.
Pour the milk into the saucepan/pot and place over medium heat on the stove. Heat this mixture until it is hot, but not boiling, about five minutes. (I whisk it a few times at this stage).
Next, add the cream, honey, sugar, and pinch of salt. Making sure the mixture doesn’t boil, continue to heat and stir occasionally until the sugar and honey have dissolved 5-7 minutes.
Remove from heat, allow it to sit for a few minutes to cool slightly. Then pour into the glass or ramekin.
Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight. Add garnishes and serve.

Pasta Frolla meets my lemon tart

November 30, 2010 § 3 Comments

I recently read this article on grandmothers and knitting and immediately emailed it to my own grandmother, who knows much more about knitting than I do. In fact, I think almost every woman in my family is skilled at crocheting dish clothes and knitting baby sweaters. In our attic is a collection of baby sweaters in various whites and blues (depending on whether or not the family was informed in advance of the baby’s gender), a tradition which unfortunately will probably end quite soon as I am totally incompetent at knitting. Every so often, when I go up north to visit my grandparents, I get it into my head that I will learn to excel at knitting — I go with Granny to pick out yarn and spend a day or two on the couch knitting a couple inches, calling out for help every ten minutes when I drop a stitch and don’t know how to fix it. After about two inches, I give up until my next visit. So I’m afraid there won’t be any new pink sweaters for my grandchildren, they’ll have to make do with the ones in the attic. Sorry.

But Granny’s baking was something I picked up with ease. She cans cherries and peaches in the summer, makes blueberry pies and crisps and always has oatmeal cookies waiting when I come visit. No raisins, no nuts, no chocolate. Just oatmeal and cinnamon. But one of my very first memories of baking with her is making angel food cakes with lemon pudding filling and whipped cream for Grandpa’s birthdays. I loved hanging the angel food cakes upside down and whipping the cream with an electric mixer (which we didn’t — and still don’t — have at home) and I loved the idea of lemon pudding. There were few things not made from scratch in her household — minus the chocolate-covered marshmallow cookies to which Grandpa holds fast and loyal — and the lemon pudding was one of them; it emerged off the stovetop a pale yellow custard made from yellow powder. I think that was my least favorite part of baking — the disappointment of that first bite of yellow lemon pudding.

But I’ve held fast and loyal to the idea of lemon pudding and when all else seems to go wrong, I turn to lemons to come through for me. So when I trekked across Paris today to the Galleries Lafayette in search of blackstrap molasses and corn syrup in order to make my family’s traditional Thanksgiving pecan squares, and came up empty handed after hours of scouring shelves of sea salts, gourmet pates à tartiner, macarons, imported goods from all over the world, colored sugars shaped in hearts and flowers and everything else you could imagine in gourmet food heaven, I inevitably turned to the lemons sitting on my counter to save the day.

As a food blogger, I have a tendency to not want to make anything twice. I mean, why would I post on the same thing more than once? But then how can I sit here and tell you that this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever eaten when I have no intention of ever eating it again? I am justifying this with, I finally made a tart crust that actually has a recipe and it was fabulous. So make this tart crust…and well you don’t really need to be told again what I think you should fill it with, do you?

I judge every Parisian patisserie by its lemon tart and well, let’s just say the reason I can’t rave about Pierre Hermé macarons like every other person in the world is because I tasted his lemon tart first — and I prefer the ones that come out of my own kitchen. Take that Paris.

The crust for this “crustata” is called pasta frolla, which was the November Daring Bakers’ challenge. The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

Pasta frolla

1/2 c. minus 1 tablespoon [105 ml, 100 g, 3 ½ oz] superfine sugar or a scant 3/4 cup [180ml, 90g, 3 oz] of powdered sugar
1 and 3/4 cup [420 ml, 235 g, 8 1/4 oz.] unbleached all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt
1 stick [8 tablespoons / 4 oz. / 115 g] cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
grated zest of half a lemon (you could also use vanilla sugar as an option, see Note 2)
1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten in a small bowl

Making pasta frolla by hand:
Whisk together sugar, flour and salt in a bowl.
Rub or cut the butter into the flour until the mixture has the consistency of coarse crumbs. You can do this in the bowl or on your work surface, using your fingertips or an implement of choice.
Make a well in the center of the mounded flour and butter mixture and pour the beaten eggs into it (reserve about a teaspoon of the egg mixture for glazing purposes later on – place in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to use).
Add the lemon zest to your flour/butter/egg mixture.
Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the solid ingredients, and then use your fingertips.
Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball.
Shape the dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. You can refrigerate the dough overnight.

Directions to assemble and bake a crostata di frutta fresca:
Preheat the oven to 350ºF [180ºC/gas mark 4].
Roll out a batch of the pasta frolla and cover the base of the tart pan.
Cut a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil large enough to cover the bottom of the crust and extend out a bit over the edges of the pan.
You can use pie weights or dry beans to blind bake. Place whatever weight you’re using directly on the parchment paper or aluminum foil in an even layer.
Place the crostata shell in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
Remove the weights and parchment paper and continue baking the crostata shell until the border is light golden, about 5 minutes (watch carefully to avoid over-baking, which results in a hard shell). In the absence of weight, the crust may rise in the middle: if that occurs, gently push it back down with the back of a spoon.
Remove from the oven and let the crostata shell cool completely before proceeding.
If you use a tart pan with removable bottom, release the base from the fluted tart ring, then slide the cooled crostata shell on a serving plate for filling. (Note: If you’ve used a cake pan or pie plate, use a bit of care in taking the shell out of the baking vessel.)
Spread the prepared filling over the cooled shell.

Is it doughnuts or donuts?

October 27, 2010 § 7 Comments

I can recall exactly two times when and places where I have loved donuts. The first was at 6 a.m. on weekend mornings, when my parents dragged me out of bed and into the car to head out of the city for my swim meets. We would stop at the Safeway by our house on the way — the only time in my childhood when I was allowed to eat this kind of junk food — and I got to pick out two donuts. One was always an old-fashioned glazed donut, which remains my favorite to this day, and the other was some variant of yeasted donut, chocolate-iced maybe, maybe dipped in sugar other times. When I stopped swimming, these donut trips stopped coming too. The only other times I have excessively enjoyed a donut were as a high school senior, when I used to run down to the Irish donut shop with my then-boyfriend. He always got the complicated ones — the apple turnovers and the cream-filled, glazed donuts — but I stuck true to my favorite, the maple-iced cake donut, which was topped with colorful sprinkles. I don’t play the field when it comes to my donuts.

Any other time I have eaten a donut, I have been disappointed by their dryness and have been left feeling predictably sick to my stomach. (Although Nopa once served these incredible, warm sugar-dusted donut holes alongside caramel sauce, and I’m a huge sucker for churros at the zoo, and I have been known to like Tim Horton’s chocolate donut holes, and I also tried deep-fried Oreos at the Italian Street Festival in NYC and will admit to liking them). I can’t say, with this challenge, that my opinion of donuts has changed all that dramatically. I stirred, I kneaded, I battled to the death with sticky dough, I tried it twice, I deep fried, I sugar dusted, I Nutella iced, I ate a couple, and then I wowed my French co-workers, who eagerly took them all off my hands to eat alongside the morning’s French-pressed espressos. The outside was a bit crunchier than I would have liked and the inside could have been a bit fluffier; maybe I’ll try making them again when I am home and not cursing the 12 inches of counter space I have here, but honestly donuts are not high on my to-bake list.

Still it was a challenge, and every challenge has its high points. For instance, I discovered that deep-frying is nowhere near as difficult or as messy as I thought it was. And the grease leftover quickly disappeared under the smell of warmed cinnamon-sugar, which instantly makes me smile when I walk into my apartment. Now if I could just have a slice of buttery cinnamon toast with that, I would say that this was a very successful challenge.

The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.

Yeast Doughnuts
Preparation time: 
Hands on prep time – 25 minutes
 Rising time – 1.5 hours total
 Cooking time – 12 minutes
Yield: 20 to 25 doughnuts & 20 to 25 doughnut holes, depending on size

Milk 1.5 cup / 360 ml

Vegetable Shortening 1/3 cup / 80 ml / 70 gm / 2.5 oz (can substitute butter, margarine or lard)

Active Dry Yeast 4.5 teaspoon (2 pkgs.) / 22.5 ml / 14 gm / ½ oz

Warm Water 1/3 cup / 80 ml (95°F to 105°F / 35°C to 41°C)

Eggs, Large, beaten 2

White Granulated Sugar ¼ cup / 60 ml / 55 gm / 2 oz

Table Salt 1.5 teaspoon / 7.5 ml / 9 gm / 1/3 oz

Nutmeg, grated 1 tsp. / 5 ml / 6 gm / ¼ oz

All Purpose Flour 4 2/3 cup / 1,120 ml / 650 gm / 23 oz + extra for dusting surface

Canola Oil DEPENDS on size of vessel you are frying in – you want THREE (3) inches of oil (can substitute any flavorless oil used for frying)

1. Place the milk in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat just until warm enough to melt the shortening. (Make sure the shortening is melted so that it incorporates well into the batter.)
2. Place the shortening in a bowl and pour warmed milk over. Set aside.
3. In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let dissolve for 5 minutes. It should get foamy. After 5 minutes, pour the yeast mixture into the large bowl of a stand mixer and add the milk and shortening mixture, first making sure the milk and shortening mixture has cooled to lukewarm.
4. Add the eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg, and half of the flour. Using the paddle attachment of your mixer (if you have one), combine the ingredients on low speed until flour is incorporated and then turn the speed up to medium and beat until well combined.
5. Add the remaining flour, combining on low speed at first, and then increase the speed to medium and beat well.
6. Change to the dough hook attachment of the mixer and beat on medium speed until the dough pulls away from the bowl and becomes smooth, approximately 3 to 4 minutes (for me this only took about two minutes). If you do not have a dough hook/stand mixer – knead until the dough is smooth and not sticky.
7. Transfer to a well-oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
8. On a well-floured surface, roll out dough to 3/8-inch (9 mm)thick. (Make sure the surface really is well-floured otherwise your doughnuts will stick to the counter).
9. Cut out dough using a 2 1/2-inch (65 mm) doughnut cutter or pastry ring or drinking glass and using a 7/8-inch (22 mm) ring for the center whole. Set on floured baking sheet, cover lightly with a tea towel, and let rise for 30 minutes.
10. Preheat the oil in a deep fryer or Dutch oven to 365 °F/185°C.
11. Gently place the doughnuts into the oil, 3 to 4 at a time. Cook for 1 minute per side or until golden brown (my doughnuts only took about 30 seconds on each side at this temperature).
12. Transfer to a cooling rack placed in baking pan. Allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes prior to glazing, if desired.

Changing seasons and a fall cookie

September 27, 2010 § 1 Comment

I think it is finally fall over here; the skies are overcast, it drizzles occasionally and I’m huddled up in my apartment in wool socks because I’m sick. Lovely. In fact I think we have skipped fall altogether and gone straight to winter. Which is unfortunate, because fall happens to be my favorite season of the year. I love walking to the crunch of the leaves underfoot, swerving a bit out of my way to make sure I step on that leaf that looks particularly brittle, breaking out my vast collection of scarves, which could probably represent every country I have ever been to, and bursting into the house on a really windy day, feeling that first initial blast of warm air on your face, and then the opposite cold burst when you step outside again. Back home, it means street blocks turn into pumpkin patches full of straw mazes and colorful pumpkins and squash every shade of orange, yellow and purple. Local coffeeshops start serving their seasonal flavored lattes — the cinnamon, the pumpkin which gradually merge into the peppermint and eggnog flavors of the holiday season. Cakes become denser, most fresh fruits slowly disappearing from the table to be replaced with spices and caramels.

But fall doesn’t seem to be much of a season over here. Indeed, as I spent the weekend in London, I toured various displays of Christmas trees, snowy animal decorations and hundreds of sets of Christmas china and ornaments. Glitter of every color seemed to sparkle in the windows of the department stores. Churches beckoned people dressed in their best clothes inside on Sunday morning, as we took a stroll along the Thames. For me, fall has a bit of a rustic charm, the charm of things changing, but that intermittent period where you aren’t quite sure where the change is leading. And when your surroundings are changing so dramatically, you long for your food to bring the warmth and comfort that you had taken for granted all around you during the summer. Fall is above all else a time for the homemade, a time for the nostalgic, a time for incorporating the warm with the simple.

The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking. The challenge was to made decorated sugar cookies with the theme of September. We were provided with a recipe for sugar cookies and a recipe for royal icing. I chose to make mostly bells, as the church bells have played a major part in my life this September. I live and go to school right by Notre Dame so my day passes according to the ringing of the church bells — once at the demi-heure and then according to the time on the hour. Sticking to the theme that baking in fall months ought to be warm and rustic — aided along by the fact that I simply could not find food coloring at any French supermarket — I decorated my church bells with dulce de leche instead of royal icing. I would love to decorate with royal icing one day, perhaps around Christmas.

Basic Sugar Cookies
Adapted from Peggy Porschen:
Makes Approximately 36x 10cm / 4″ Cookies

200g / 7oz / ½ cup + 6 Tbsp Unsalted Butter, at room temperature

400g / 14oz / 3 cups + 3 Tbsp All Purpose / Plain Flour

200g / 7oz / 1 cup Caster Sugar / Superfine Sugar

1 Large Egg, lightly beaten

5ml / 1 tsp Vanilla Extract / Or seeds from 1 vanilla bean

Cream together the butter and sugar until creamy. Beat in the egg until well combined. Add the sifted flour and mix until a sticky dough forms.

Knead into a ball and divide into 2 or 3 pieces. Roll out each portion between parchment paper to a thickness of about 5mm/1/5 inch (0.2 inch). Refrigerate for a minimum of 30mins. Once chilled, peel off parchment and place dough on a lightly floured surface. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters. Arrange shapes on parchment lined baking sheets and refrigerate for another 30mins to an hour. Preheat oven to 180°C / 350°F . Bake until golden around the edges, about 8-15mins depending on the size of the cookies. Leave to cool on cooling racks. Once completely cooled, decorate as desired.

Decorate with Dulce de Leche
By David Lebovitz

The Daring Bakers: Ice cream petit fours

August 27, 2010 § 4 Comments

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alaska or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.

I made the browned butter pound cake and a batch of milk chocolate and black pepper ice cream from David Lebovitz. You can see all the details of the challenge and all the recipes we used on Elissa’s blog here. I had some trouble assembling the petit fours. When I tried to glaze them, the ice cream just started melting so I had to put them back in the freezer and try to frost them later, instead of pouring on the glaze. But the ice cream was truly delicious! Since my ice cream maker is still in boxes being shipped home from DC, I made it the low-tech way. David Lebovitz has great instructions for making ice cream without an ice cream maker.

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