Posted in baking, candy, dry heat, wet heat

Pear Frangipane Tart

pear tart

I used this recipe to make a Christmas Eve dessert.

I adapted it slightly. I definitely poached my own pears. I’m not snobby about all ingredients, but the difference between fresh and canned pears is huge. I followed David Lebovitz’s recipe for that, and added ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, and whole cloves (maybe a tablespoon of each? I didn’t measure) to the syrup, which I made double the amount of.

Double the pear poaching syrup might have been more than I needed, especially since you don’t actually need 4 pears to do this recipe. Only two quartered pears will fit on the top of my tart, although I squeezed in one more quarter.

I also don’t have baking beans or parchment paper handy, so I blind baked the crust without anything on top of it for 15 minutes and that seemed fine. It didn’t brown.

I haven’t tasted the finished product yet but I think the crust might turn out too floury tasting. It’s somewhere in between a cookie crust and a flaky buttery crust. You might want to try a pate sucree recipe instead. But I’ll report back after tonight. Edit: The crust was tender but a little too floury tasting for me. It wasn’t bad but I’d just as soon eat the filling and the pears without the crust. Making it either more buttery or sweeter would probably be better. The almond meal in the crust probably helped keep it tender but I don’t think it added much flavor-wise.

I also added some vanilla to the frangipane, and right now I’m boiling down the syrup I poached the pears in to make a sauce for the tart, especially important if it turns out to be not sweet enough. I also thought a caramel sauce would go well with it, but since I already have this syrup I’ll try that first. Edit: the frangipane was delicious. My sister doesn’t like pears so I just made her try a bite of the frangipane and she said “It’s like a little angel!” She then apologized for not being good at talking about food but I thought that was pretty great! I do think adding spices to it would be good, though. The syrup didn’t pack the punch I had hoped, but the tart didn’t really need it, either.

The whole thing took me two hours. I made the crust, let it rest while I prepped the pears, blind baked, poached, and made frangipane simultaneously, and now I’m baking and boiling down the syrup. You could do the crust ahead of time, of course.

One thing I learned from doing it is that you want to grab the pears out of the syrup either without piercing them, or piercing them from the bottom! When they dry up in the oven the fork marks really show!

Cinnamon and cloves are my obsession this winter since I tried a cocktail with Fernet Branco (but it didn’t taste bitter at all!). I’m thinking about using the syrup in a cocktail, too.

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Posted in baking, candy, custard, foam

Daring Baker Challenge: Fraisier

 Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine.

 

Fraisier

Instead of the Daring Baker recipe, I used this recipe from Food Lover’s Odyssey. It uses genoise cake instead of chiffon, meaning the eggs aren’t separated but are heated and then beaten to make a foam, and it uses an ungodly amount of butter to make the cream stand up instead of gelatin.

I used half the amount of butter it calls for – the strawberries in the center of the middle layer did most of the work of holding the cake up.  My boyfriend and I picked the strawberries ourselves! And the blueberries came from the same farm.

The cake shrunk as it cooked, naturally, so my springform pan had a little extra room when I used it as a mold for the center layer. The result was the strawberries hanging kind of low. If I had started with the cream it probably would’ve worked better.

Regardless, it was delicious! Decadent and summery at the same time. We ate it on the Fourth of July. I would definitely make it again, but probably in the structure of a regular cake just to make my life easier.

Posted in baking, candy, custard, emulsion, foam

Daring Baker Challenge: Mousse in an edible container

The April 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Evelyne of the blog Cheap Ethnic Eatz. Evelyne chose to challenge everyone to make a maple mousse in an edible container. Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 27th to May 27th at http://thedaringkitchen.com

So yeah, it was supposed to be maple mousse.  But I got inspired to have a Red and Black party, so I made chocolate mousse in red tuiles.  I shaped the tuiles by putting some in mini muffin tins and draping others over the tops of wine bottles, so that they made bowls to hold the mousse.  They came out looking like rose petals.

I made my chocolate mousse from David Lebovitz’s adaptation of Julia Child’s recipe.  I tripled the recipe and, of course, made some minor changes, so mine came out like this – but be warned, this is for WAY more mousse than you really want to make.

  1. Mousse in the making
    Mixing the chocolate emulsion with the custard.

    Melt butter and chocolate with coffee.

    • 4 sticks butter
    • 510g dark chocolate (fair trade!)
    • 3/4 cup coffee
  2. Make zabaglione.  (A sweet custard with an alcoholic liquid.  Traditionally marsala wine; Julia’s recipe used rum; I used cognac and it was delicious.)  This is done by heating the ingredients in a double boiler until thick enough to coat a spoon, and then beating (an electric mixer is a good idea) off the heat (with the bowl in cool water, even) until lighter in color and thick enough that when you drip some, a trail remains.
    • 12 egg yolks (I bought jumbo by accident so I used 10)
    • 510g sugar
    • 6 Tbsp cognac
    • 3 Tbsp water
  3. Make meringue.  Beat egg whites; when it’s all opaque, add the sugar.  Keep beating until peaks form but aren’t too stiff.
    • 12 egg whites
    • 3 Tbsp sugar
    • a few pinches of salt
    • 1 tsp cream of tartar
    • 2 tsp vanilla
finished mousse
Blurry picture of finished mousse.

Gently mix the first two together and then fold the meringue into that.  This means you’ll be eating uncooked egg whites.  If you’re not ok with that, make a Swiss meringue instead, which is where you heat the egg whites and sugar to 160F before beating them.

This mousse was amazing, y’all.  Totally worth all the different ingredients and components.  The zabaglione alone was amazing, I’ll definitely make that again.

I did run into a hitch – my chocolate emulsion broke.  I googled around about this and came to the conclusion that humans do not fully understand chocolate, because what I found didn’t make a lot of sense.  But basically, I think it broke because I heated it too much, and what ended up working was cooling it in the fridge, and then heating it again, very slowly.  I tried this trick where I took just a little of it and mixed it with some heated corn syrup.  That bit re-emulsified, but as I added more of the broken mixture to the fixed mixture, it got fixed and then I added too much and it all broke again.  So I guess that last addition of broken mixture lowered the temperature too much.  So, chop your chocolate and butter before starting, so everything can melt fast and evenly, and if you run into this problem, cool and reheat slowly.

tuiles
Rose petal tuiles.

Now the tuiles.  I used this recipe without the almonds, and multiplied by 4.  These were really simple, and I had been so worried!  I used LOTS of red food coloring, and flavored them with cinnamon, but then added a little cocoa powder too because I wanted the red velvet color to come out right.  I didn’t add any liquid to the recipe to make up for this; maybe if I had they would’ve come out a little crispier, like I expected, but the texture they had was good for shaping them.  I’d skip the cinnamon next time; I wanted a red flavor to go with the red color, but I wasn’t crazy about the result.

Finally, I made some cayenne syrup to go on top.

  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Boil until the thread stage, 130F.  Unfortunately, even though I stopped at the thread stage, mine eventually crystallized.  But it was a nice mixture of hot and sweet, and I love spice with my chocolate.

The official drink for the party was something that’s apparently called Devil’s Blood – it’s a vodka cranberry with black vodka.  I layered it by pouring the vodka from a measuring cup over the back of a spoon onto the cranberry juice, which worked well.

devil's blood
Layered cocktail.
Posted in baking, candy, foam

S’more bars

This summer, foodgawker was inundated with recipes for s’more bars and I’ve been dying to make some.  My friends’ housewarming seemed like the perfect opportunity.  But when I looked at the recipes (the ones that didn’t involve strange ingredients like granola), they were all exactly the same: it’s essentially a cookie dough with some of the flour replaced with graham cracker crumbs, topped by chocolate and marshmallow fluff and more of the same cookie dough.  I don’t know where it originated or I’d link to it.  Anyway, delicious as that sounds, I decided to try to go a little more traditional with it and use a graham cracker crust like you’d make for a cheesecake – just graham cracker crumbs and butter – topped with chocolate and homemade marshmallow.  I omitted the top graham cracker layer so I could flambe the marshmallow, because I don’t know about you, but I like my marshmallow seriously singed.

I based the graham cracker layer on this recipe, ending up with the following:

  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (12 crackers)
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • Bake at 350F for 10 minutes.

Based on the ubiquitous s’more bar recipe, put 6 Hershey bars on top of that.  I put this in the turned-off but still hot oven for a few minutes to melt them.

Instead of using marshmallow creme like the s’more bar recipe says, I made marshmallows according to Chef Thomas Keller’s recipe via Cooking For Engineers.  (The Keller link no longer leads anywhere, but that’s what CFE cites.)  It’s really easy: make a hard-ball stage candy while you bloom gelatin, then beat both together until it gets opaque and thick and voluminous.  Then I poured it over the chocolate and let it cool.  I didn’t use the whole recipe on the s’more bars – I saved enough to fill one of those short square Gladwares because it just made too much.  I still think I ended up with more marshmallow on the bars than I should have had, but I guess that just makes it indulgent.

I took the bars to my friends’ place and flambeed them, which melted the top of the marshmallow but didn’t get it really burnt like I like it.  I tried to take a picture but the picture put the fire out somehow!  Next I’ll try setting the reserved marshmallow on fire.

If I made the s’more bars again, I think I’d go with different chocolate – something darker.  I stuck with Hershey’s milk for tradition’s sake, but it really was a little too sweet for me.  I must be getting old.

Posted in candy, thickening

Cranberry Pâtes de Fruit, the easy way

cranberry pate de fruit 1
Aren't they pretty with the light coming through?

When I was studying abroad in France, some family friends took me out to dinner at Apicius, a devastatingly good restaurant. When they brought dessert, there were a few things that they served regardless of what we ordered, and one of those things were these little square raspberry things coated in sugar. They were soooo good. But that’s not all; they were the mysterious puciunin that my then-boyfriend used to tell me about (his Piedmontese grandmother called them that). I had tried to figure out what they were, but try googling puciunin – hardly anything comes up. Sure enough, I saw them again at a store in the airport in France (and bought them, of course!), and that was when I found out what the rest of the world calls them: pâte de fruit. Fruit paste, in other words.

They’re not as schmancy as they sound: they’re just overcooked jam. But try these and you may start calling jam undercooked pâte de fruit, because really, what better way is there to eat your fruit? (I’m just so sad that a lot of the nutrients break down at the temperatures required.)

When I got home I tried making them. Several times. I never got quite the consistency I wanted. Puciunin should be a definite solid, but not rubbery. They’re not like jello, either. They’re just right. I made some apple ones that were a little too firm, some apple ones that were too soft, some strawberry ones that were too firm, some pineapple ones that were too soft.

The problem is that pectin is the gelling agent, and pectin is very finicky. It needs just so much sugar,

cranberry pate de fruit 2
This is the dish held vertically. I'd like to see jam do that.

just so much acid, just so much heat. But the fruit you’re using has an unknown amount of sugar, acid, and even pectin.  I considered buying a refractometer and ordering the brand of fruit puree that you can use to eliminate these unknowns, but eventually it occurred to me that I could (more inexpensively) just buy some low-sugar pectin and see if that helped.  Low-sugar pectin is still kind of finicky, as you can’t use too much sugar with it, but trust me, these things do not suffer from a lack of sweetness.  I’ve also noticed that both kinds of pectin have an acid in their ingredient list, and so I wonder if the acid included in pâte de fruit recipes is actually necessary.

So the other night I found myself with a lot of cranberry juice left over from my cranberry fondant (yes, that’s how long I’ve been sitting on this post), and it was so delicious, except for the fact that the acidity or astringency or both made it undrinkable.  But I could tell that it would be delicious if I could get it under control!  I thought, you normally make pâte de fruit from puree, but juice could work.  It might not have quite the same consistency, and you shouldn’t make this substitution in a recipe you have without taking into account that the juice will have less pectin than the puree, but still…  And so, I gave this a shot:

  1. 2 1/2 cups cranberry juice (not juice cocktail)
  2. 2 cups sugar (Ok, to be totally honest, I didn’t write this down and I’m not sure if I actually used 2 cups.  But it must have been in the ballpark…I know, big mistake.)
  3. a pinch of cream of tartar
  4. a packet of low-sugar pectin

I boiled the juice and sugar for a few minutes and then added the acid and pectin.  Then I boiled more, and more, and more, continually testing it by spooning a little onto a pyrex pan kept in the freezer (my candy thermometer is being shipped to me

sugared cranberry pate de fruit
Here they are after being dipped in sugar. Though it's traditional, it really wasn't necessary.

with a bunch of my other stuff that wouldn’t fit in my suitcase).  In the end I sort of chickened out – it was just shy of perfect, and I knew if I cooked the pectin too far it would break down and not gel at all, so I stopped there, and poured the whole thing into aforementioned pyrex pan.  I let it cool on the counter and then stuck it in the fridge.  The next day, I cut it into squares and spread them out on a plate so the sides could sort of dry.  They don’t end up feeling dry or anything, they just get a little firmer and less sticky.  I think it would have been even better if I had had the patience to flip them over and let the bottoms dry, too.  Finally, I tossed them in sugar (sanding sugar is preferable, but I just used regular granulated).  This was the test: the bottoms ended up, not visibly wet, but wet enough that the sugar didn’t look white anymore.  The other sides stayed dry and white.  So I guess that’s the trick to keeping them from weeping and dissolving the sugar and getting sticky: cook them enough, and let them sort of dry out for a while first.

I wish I had added even less sugar, because the wonderful acidity of the cranberries is a little lost.  I also think I should have cooked them just ever so slightly longer; but still, I think these pass as pâtes de fruit, and that is a triumph!  Who would have thought my most successful try would be the one where I just used juice?

Posted in baking, candy, thickening

Daring Baker Challenge: Croquembouche!

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.

This challenge was so epic, I had to invite people over to see it.  And eat it, which they did – the whole entire thing.  I made 3 1/2 batches of pate a choux, 3 batches of pastry cream, and two batches of caramel for it.

Pate a choux:

Dense profiterole
This was one with too little egg - it didn't rise much.
Light profiterole
This is a profiterole with too much egg - it's light and airy, but kind of flat.

This is an interesting kind of baked good that I frankly don’t understand the science behind, so if anyone out there does, please, enlighten me.  You boil water and butter (with a little salt and sugar), add flour and heat a little more, and then add eggs.  You end up with a completely un-airy batter that can be piped.  It contains no chemical leaveners, no yeast.  And then you bake it, and voila, it comes out almost completely hollow inside!

I’ll tell you what I do know: not enough egg will keep them from puffing; you can spot this problem if the paste is too dense.  It should have a pleasant, smooth feel between your fingers, not too thick and sticky.  Too much egg will make them too wet to hold their shape after being piped, and you’ll end up with puffed but squat profiteroles.  The batter should keep its shape.  The recipe said to use 4 eggs for a cup of flour and 6 tbsp of butter, but I ended up using a little less than that.  I beat some eggs and put them in a measuring cup so I could add a little at a time.  How much you use still depends on how much you heated the flour mixture, though, so I’ll say around 3/4 cup worked for me, but you have to kind of play it by ear.

Pastry cream:

Filled cream puffs
Some of the cream puffs, filled with pastry cream.

I flavored two batches with chocolate and one with cream cheese and a little bit of sour cream, trying to go for a cheesecake flavor.  Most pastry cream recipes say to boil the milk and then temper the eggs, that is, add 1/3 of the milk to the eggs, whisking, and then add the eggs to the rest of the milk and continue heating.  I tried this and curdled my eggs.  I think adding the hot milk to the eggs didn’t heat them up as much as it was supposed to, and so they were untempered when I threw them onto the hot stove, poor things.  So I made my creams in a double boiler.  No fancy steps, I just mixed everything together (except the cream cheese, sour cream, and vanilla) in a double boiler and whisked for approximately forever.  I was worried that I wouldn’t get it to a high enough temperature to deactive the enzymes in the eggs that attack the starch, but I made them the night before and they never separated, so I guess it did the job.  I never really saw it boil, but I may have missed it because I was whisking constantly and whenever I noticed the bottom had suddenly thickened, I’d take it off the heat and stir like crazy.  It thickened to the point of coating a spoon, but then also past that, to the point of leaving a trail that doesn’t disappear.  So, if anyone has tips on how to do pastry cream the normal way, don’t be shy, but at least you know you can fall back on this method if necessary.

Caramel:

Caramel
It was pretty while it lasted.

Our recipe said to make a dry caramel, that is, to just heat sugar till it’s caramel.  I tried that, but I guess I was stirring too much, because I ended up with crystallized bits.  So I went with a wet caramel after that, which is sugar and water (I used approximately equal amounts by volume, but it doesn’t really matter), heated until it changes color.  I stopped it at a fairly light amber, because caramel gets softer as it gets darker and I wanted mine to dry fairly hard so it would make good glue.  I cooked until I saw a light amber color, touched the bottom of the pan to the surface of some water I had standing by in a big bowl a couple of times, and then set the pan over a pot of simmering water in an

effort to keep the caramel workable for as long as possible.  I don’t know if the double boiler helped at all; I don’t really think it did.  It took me two batches of caramel to build the whole thing, not because I ran out of caramel, but because I ran out of time while it was workable.

I also drizzled some caramel on parchment paper the night before, thinking I’d break it into pieces and stick them into the croquembouche as decoration, but the caramel absorbed moisture overnight, so that the really small strands just plain dissolved, and the bigger areas got sticky and stuck to the paper (which they had come off of easily before). I wanted to do some more real quick before serving, but when it got to that time, I had burnt myself twice with the caramel and was a little bit over it.  Definitely have cold water around if you work with caramel, it gives second degree burns.

inside the cone
The inside of the cone.

Construction:

I made a cone out of posterboard and lined it with parchment paper, which I sprayed with Pam just to be safe.  I put the cone in a vase and dipped the profiteroles in the caramel and then put them in the cone.  My friend kindly offered to help and she arranged them in the cone so I could work faster and burn myself less. I made a hollow cone, which seems to be the thing to do.  Then I cut off the extra posterboard, inverted on a baking pan, and unwrapped the cone.  It stood!  Just long enough for everyone to start digging in.

This was a hit.  You wouldn’t believe the comments I got.  I have now been called a “wizard of food.”  So if you have the time and motivation, this dessert comes with a big payoff!  Just be sure to serve it right away – it’s not known for its long-term stability.

finished croquembouche

The really finished croquembouche

Posted in candy, thickening, Uncategorized

A different way to enjoy wine

Milk chocolate truffles
Careful with the quality of your chocolate - I thought I was getting good stuff but the ganache had a sticky quality that makes me suspect they added a thickener to it..

I’ve been groaning to myself about the state of the food blogosphere circa Valentine’s Day, but then I realized, I’m doing the same thing.  I made truffles, as I have every Valentine’s Day since my freshman year in college.  I can’t help the fact that they’re the perfect potluck base: I make the centers – a simple ganache (cream + chocolate, melted together, some add butter), this year I took Cooking For Engineers’ advice and used a 2:1 chocolate:cream ratio by weight – and everyone brings a topping.

But I also made something else that is not what you usually see on Valentine’s Day (or ever), although I must admit it is clearly V-Day themed.

Madeleine-shaped gelled wine candies
You have to be careful when you pour them in the molds or you'll get those funny little edges.

I have a thing about pâtes de fruit, which will become clear when I finally get around to posting about my cranberry ones.  This time, I made them with red wine.  I used Juanita’s Allrecipes recipe for wine jelly as a starting point, but it’s a pretty loose interpretation.  Here’s what I did:

          • 1 bottle red wine
          • 1 packet low-sugar pectin (ie, pectin that can be used with low- or no-sugar recipes; not because I’m anti-sugar, but because this pectin can tolerate a wider variety of sugar concentrations, making it harder to screw up)
          • about 3 Tbsp. sugar
          • 1/2 an ice cube of lemon juice – about 1 Tbsp
            1. Make a pectin slurry: I mixed the pectin with some of the wine so the pectin wouldn’t clump when I added it later.  If you’re using liquid pectin, don’t worry about that.
            2. Boil the heck out of everything: I boiled the wine, sugar, and lemon juice, and then added the pectin and kept boiling until 1) a little put on a plate in the freezer solidified to my liking – when I pushed on it, it broke into two pieces on either side of my finger instead of letting me make a finger-shaped hole; 2) the bubbles were small and close together; 3) it was just shy of 220°F – it seemed like it would never get quite there!  The longer you boil, the firmer they will set, unless you go way too long and the pectin breaks down, in which case they won’t set at all (although your syrup will be pretty thick by then anyway).  I would love to tell you the temperature at which this happens but I have been unable to find it myself. If anyone knows, please comment!
            3. Pan and chill: I took it off the heat and poured it into a greased mini-madeleine mold and a greased mini-muffin pan, then refrigerated.  They came out of the molds just fine.  So don’t think your baking pans are unitaskers!
            Wine candies in the mold
            The good thing about my bad molding technique is you can get a better sense of the rich color!

            The verdict: They were quite good, but a little too tart.  I would either increase the sugar, at least for this particular wine (did somebody say Riesling candy? I’ll get right on that), or drop the lemon juice.  I have a sneaking suspicion that since all the pectin I buy has citric acid in the ingredients, we may not really need to add acidic ingredients anymore.  Perhaps lemon juice and such are just still in all the recipes from before someone got the bright idea to add it to the pectin.  Does anyone know for sure?  I’ll have to test it sometime.  Anyway, wine is already acidic so maybe it’s sufficient on its own.  My recommendation is to make this with a fruity wine and no lemon juice – I still like to err on the side of too little sugar because, even as someone with a huge sweet tooth, too much sugar can take some of the complexity out of the flavor.  And these are supposed to be sophisticated candies, after all!