Posted in thickening

Apricot pate de fruit

Add apricot juice to the list of things I have pectinified:

  1. Cranberry juice
  2. Blueberries
  3. Riesling wine
  4. Red wine
  5. Honey

In fact, I was planning to make decorated sugar cookies for the Daring Bakers instead, but realized I didn’t have enough time, and knew that I could always fall back on pate de fruit.  Although I guess I should call mine pate de jus, huh?

I got a bottle of apricot juice and did my usual thing – add sugar to taste, bring to a boil, add low-sugar pectin, cook until it’s the firmness you want when you drip a little onto a plate you keep in the freezer. I found that with the amount of juice I used (it was a smaller bottle than what a lot of fruit juice comes in, but still more juice than I’ve used before), I needed a packet and a half instead of just one packet of pectin in order to not have to boil it down too much.

I poured them into everything I had available to pour stuff into – my madeleine pan, my rose molds, and even two little heart-shaped baking pans.  It all worked out really well.  I put sugar on the hearts, but as you can see, the sugar makes them less reflective and pretty, and it draws out water and gets itself dissolved.

I took these (a long time ago) to a department party (the same one I took my key lime mini-pies to last year, and once again, it all got eaten) and one of our visiting students was really happy to have a vegan option for dessert :).

Posted in thickening

Blueberry pate de fruit

The night before the first day of school, I whipped up some blueberry pate de fruit.  Now that I know the secret of low-sugar pectin, I can do stuff like that.  Especially if I’m using whole fruit instead of juice or wine; it already has so much less water than the latter that it hits the right consistency really fast.  I actually added a little water this time to give the pectin time to heat up before the blueberries got too dehydrated.  I want the candy to be thick because of the pectin, not because I boiled the fruit down to nothing.

  • 1 pint blueberries
  • some water – a few tablespoons
  • 1 package low-sugar pectin
  • some sugar – my blueberries were a little tart, so I’m guessing I used about 1/2 cup

Puree blueberries.  Add sugar.  Boil.  Add pectin and water.  Stir.  Test on a plate in the freezer.  Pour into my trusty madeleine pan.  Let set.  Enjoy.

This made just over the amount my little madeleine pan will hold, so I have some scraps in a tupperware.

When I made pate de Riesling, I wondered if greasing the pan was necessary.  It’s not nonstick, but I suspected the shape of the madeleines would let the candies slide right out.  So this time I didn’t grease it.  Before being refrigerated, they absolutely slid right out.  After refrigeration, they slid out but not quite as perfectly as before.  I think this may be because they got below freezing in the fridge, though.  That’s happened to things in certain parts of the fridge before, and these seemed colder than they should have been.  So it seems to be pretty safe – the main thing to watch out for when molding pectin candy is the shape of the mold (you need leverage to get them out), not the nonstick-ness of the surface.

I’ll add pictures when I’m less lazy.

Posted in thickening

Riesling candy

Rose molds
The candy setting in rose-shaped molds.

I have finally played around with pectin enough that I can whip up a batch of gelled candy without worrying about recipes.  They make it seem so hard!  Here’s what works for me.

I visited some good friends in Minneapolis for the Minnesota State Fair, and since they had given me some molds for candy just because they saw them and thought of me, I’d been planning ever since we thought up the trip to bring them candy made in the molds.  One of them loves wine, and I think she’s actually a red wine person, but my red wine candies from Valentine’s Day didn’t taste quite candy-like enough.  I thought a Riesling, a white wine known for being sweet, would make a great candy.  The only ingredients are:

  • a bottle of Riesling
  • a little sugar – I didn’t measure, just poured a little in, but I’d say 3-4 Tbsp is a good guess.  It’ll depend on your wine, anyway.
  • a box of SureJell pectin, the kind that doesn’t require sugar to gel
  1. Put a small plate in your freezer.
  2. If your pectin is powdered like mine was, mix a little of the wine with the pectin in order to make a slurry so the pectin won’t clump as much when you stir it in later.*
  3. Heat the wine and sugar until it comes to a rolling boil.  (To be honest, I didn’t add the sugar until I had started testing it and tasting the test bits and realized it could be a little sweeter.)
  4. Whisk in the pectin.
  5. After a few minutes, start testing small spoonfuls of the mixture by putting them on the freezer plate, putting the plate back in the freezer for a couple of minutes, and then pressing on the cooled gel.  At first, your finger will make an indentation in the gel.  But after a while, the gel will split under the pressure, because it’s more solid.  That’s when it’s ready.
  6. Remove from the heat and pour into your molds.  Alternatively, and more traditionally, pour into a rectangular or square pan and cut into squares when cooled.
  7. It’s also traditional to toss the finished candies in sanding sugar, but I think they’re prettier as they are and find the sugar distracting taste-wise.  Plus I hate to have to worry about whether or not the sugar will draw out the moisture and get itself dissolved.
florida molds
My friend lived in Florida for a while, my home state. Hence these beachy shapes.

*I’m not sure if making the slurry was necessary, because I noticed there were some clumps in the pectin-wine mixture anyway, and yet when the candy was done and I poured it into the molds, I saw no clumps.  So maybe it all works itself out in the intense boiling that goes on.

I also molded some, as with my red wine batch, in a mini madeleine pan.  Works beautifully, and the shell shape makes them easy to slip out of the molds.  I greased all of my molds with a little coconut oil to be on the safe side, but I’m not sure it matters.

I ended up with enough to fill both of the molds my friends gave me (they have 11 spots each, with each spot holding maybe 2 tsp) and my mini madeleine pan, and have a little left on the bottom of my saucepan to try.

madeleine candy
I have actually never used this pan to make madeleines. Only to mold candy.
Posted in baking, foam, freezing, infusion, thickening

Daring Baker Challenge: Swiss Roll Ice Cream Cake

The July 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Sunita of Sunita’s world – life and food. Sunita challenged everyone to make an ice-cream filled Swiss roll that’s then used to make a bombe with hot fudge. Her recipe is based on an ice cream cake recipe from Taste of Home.

A slice
My guests thought it was just chocolate and vanilla, but you know me better than that.

The recipe is available here.
I’ll be honest, I thought this dessert was going to be too much.  I had to pick flavors for four components, plus have a fudge sauce.  But I tried to pick things that wouldn’t clash, and I think it turned out really well.  The subtleties probably didn’t come through, because you tend to eat it all together, but it tasted good together, and that’s what matters, right?

So, this dessert had five parts.

1. Sponge cake – I tried making it first by whipping the egg yolks and egg whites separately, folding the flour and water into the yolks, folding part of the whites into the yolks, and then adding all of the yolk mixture to the whites.  This worked well and it worked FAST, especially because my eggs were pretty old.  Then I tried it with brand new eggs, whipping whole eggs.  I can’t say whether it was the fact that they were whole or the fact that they were new or both, but they definitely took a lot longer to whip.  Eventually, though, they did, and although I had the impression they didn’t end up as airy as the first batch, the cakes were basically identical in the end.  It is important to grease your parchment paper – something I’ve never had to do before – because this cake will stick to everything, and it’s too thin (thin enough to bake in a jellyroll pan, that’s the kind with short sides) to afford losing a layer to the parchment. Because it’s so thin, it cooks fast.  In my overzealous oven, I consistently cooked them for 8 minutes each.

I flavored my cake by using brown sugar instead of white (actually I kept a little white sugar in there, but I doubt it matters).  When it came out of the oven, it smelled like French toast.  Yummmm.  I substituted cake flour for the cocoa powder in the recipe – all the flour I used was cake flour.

By the way, does anyone know why the recipe says to have the water boiling?  I don’t see why that matters, but I did it just to be safe.

2. Filling – I made whipped cream with brown sugar instead of white, and added some ground cassia/Saigon cinnamon.  I once impatiently put the filling on the cake before letting the cake cool, and the cake soaked it all up.  You really do have to let the cake cool first.  I don’t know how important it is to roll the cake while it’s warm to make it roll without breaking later, but I always did.  I didn’t use a towel, since my kitchen towels are of questionable cleanliness. I never had any trouble with the cake breaking from rolling or unrolling it, but I did have trouble getting the cake to roll tightly enough to be pretty but not so tightly as to squeeze out the filling.  I ended up rolling as best I could, slicing, and then unrolling and rerolling each slice.  Messy, annoying, but got the job done.  I think the trick, if there is one, has to do with getting an even layer of the filling on the cake.  Mine seemed to have more towards the middle, which made my outer slices badly shaped.

The slices of the resulting Swiss roll were pressed into a bowl (which was covered in plastic wrap) to line the sides, and this was put in the freezer.

Cake and Ice Cream #1
About halfway there.

3. Ice Cream #1 – I made Mexican Hot Chocolate ice cream, loosely based on David Lebovitz’s Aztec Hot Chocolate recipe from The Perfect Scoop.  I believe in making dairy-based ice creams with light cream, around 18% fat (I calculated that this makes an ice cream with the same fat, solid, and water content as a formula I found for premium ice cream), so I did that, and the recipe went like this:

Mexican Hot Chocolate Ice Cream

3 cups light cream

5 Tbsp cocoa powder

3/4 cup sugar

2 oz chile flavored chocolate, chocolate

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 pinch salt

1 Tbsp cognac

1 small dried red chile pepper, chopped and with seeds removed (I got this from my farmshare and don’t know what it should be called, but it is HOT)

Heat cream, sugar, pepper, and cocoa powder until boiling.  Remove from heat and add everything else.  Strain.  Chill.  Churn.  Freeze.

I didn’t know if it would be too hot or not hot enough, but I think it turned out just right if you like it mild.  You could tell something interesting was going on, but it wasn’t at all bothersome.  People who like spicy food would want more heat, though.  I think having it cold and with all that dairy definitely tones it down – I got more spice out of it when I tasted it pre-churning.I thought it was delicious.  In any case, I think it’s one of my new favorite flavors.

Out of the bowl
If I were more into crafty baking, I would totally make one of these to look like a turtle.

4. Ice Cream #2 – I chose hazelnut for this one.  I bought some hazelnuts, skinned them – I found out through on OChef that boiling them in a quart of water with 4 Tbsp of baking powder for about 3 minutes makes this really easy, I was so thankful – baked them at about 200F for about 10 minutes or 15 minutes, and then tried to grind them into butter.  That failed, so I infused my light cream (actually, this time I used half heavy cream and half whole milk, which is approximately the same) with the ground hazelnuts (and sugar) and then strained it.  This time, since I wasn’t adding alcohol, which makes ice cream softer, I added gelatin, which also keeps ice cream from freezing too solid, though in its own, gelatiny way.  In the past I’ve used a whole packet of gelatin for this much ice cream, and half a packet for 2/3 this much ice cream, and both times thought it was a little much.  So I tried half a packet, but I forgot to bloom it in some of the liquid kept cold, so I just stirred it into the hot liquid, and I don’t know if that keeps it from working, but it didn’t seem to have any effect.  The texture of the ice cream was great, but gelatin keeps ice cream from melting into a puddle and this ice cream melted like crazy, so I’m skeptical that it was really doing its job. I also used a little more sugar because my lower-gelatin batch before seemed not quite soft enough and perhaps not quite sweet enough.  I looked at Lebovitz’s Gianduja Gelato recipe to see about infusing the cream with the nuts, but other than that this is my own recipe.  If I can figure out how to make hazelnut butter I’ll have an even more original one for you – I’ve done the math to match that premium ice cream formula again, but alas, my grinders just aren’t cooperating.

Hazelnut Ice Cream

3 cups light cream

7/8 cup sugar (that’s 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp)

150 g ground hazelnuts

1 pinch salt

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 envelope of gelatin (about 4g)

Bloom gelatin in some of the cream.  Heat the rest of the cream, sugar, salt, and hazelnuts.  Remove from heat and add gelatin and vanilla, whisking well.  Strain.  Chill.  Churn.  Freeze.

These ice creams were poured into the bowl on top of the frozen Swiss rolls.  I let the first freeze before churning and adding the second.

At first I was just drizzling the sauce on top, but then I said what the hell.

5. Fudge Sauce – I cheated.  I’m sorry.  Please let me stay in the club.  I was supposed to put the fudge sauce in between the layers of ice cream, but I’m sorry, that is not the purpose of fudge sauce.  Fudge sauce it to be added hot on top of cold ice cream.  So that’s what I did.  I poured it on top of the whole ice cream cake.

I also wasn’t very excited about a fudge sauce based on water thickened with cornstarch.  I found a recipe on Allrecipes that was simply sweetened condensed milk and unsweetened chocolate, with a little salt and vanilla.  (It also had water, but I omitted that – I wanted it nice and thick.)  That sounded more like it me, so that’s what I made.  It was thoroughly enjoyed.

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.


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.


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 foam, thickening

May Flowers Macarons

Baked macarons
When I first read about the importance of the frilly feet, I thought it was nonsense. When I saw these feet, I was ecstatic.

For our last departmental reception of the school year, I finally made macarons de Paris.  I’ve made macarons d’Amiens before, and I long preferred their unassuming deliciousness to the over-celebrated froufrou that is the Parisian macaron.  I actually never ate them in Paris, partially because I misunderstood what they were and didn’t think I’d really like them, and partially because I thought the colors everyone loves so much were a little silly.  But somehow I came around.

Spring makes me deliriously happy after spending my first winter above the Mason-Dixon line, so these macarons were an ode to flowers.  As a Floridian, the flowers were, naturally, orange blossoms.  So: orange blossom flavored macarons filled with orange blossom honey jam.

I used Not So Humble Pie’s French meringue macaron recipe with a capful (probably a little over a teaspoon) of orange blossom water mixed in while I was beating the egg whites.  I knew I could get away with that because Alton Brown taught me that you can add a little water to your egg whites for more volume.  I used an oven temperature of about 300F, and I used Bob’s Red Mill almond meal – please don’t even try to use Trader Joe’s (I’ll have to remake the macarons d’Amiens with the Red Mill meal, so much better).  I piped them with a Ziploc bag and a star tip, because it turns out my random assortment of piping tips does not include a large round one.  So they were not quite perfectly smooth, but they were pretty good.  I also didn’t bother to shield them with a sheet pan from getting browned.  They browned a little, and since I didn’t color them, I thought it was a nice peachy tinge.  I am very proud to say that they had lovely feet.  And great height, which of course came along with air bubbles inside.  Whatever.  You can’t even tell when you eat them.  I was super proud.

Assembled macaron
I ate this one after taking this shot.

Now, I have to confess: I tried to make honey buttercream frosting three times before giving up and making honey jam instead.  I’ll write a full post on that so you can learn from my mistakes.  But the honey jam was super easy: just add some water to the honey, and a little lemon juice (which I still suspect of being unnecessary since pectin comes with acid nowadays, but worst case scenario it freshens up the flavor, right?), boil, add pectin, boil a minute more, and you’re done.  I actually have a lot left over despite making about a third of this recipe.  I am not complaining.

They were loved and every last one was eaten.  Ok, I ate the last one.  What?  It’s important to try your own food, so you know what to improve on.  So even though buttercream kicked my butt, I am really proud that I can make macarons.  I feel like I can just whip them up for anything now.

Oh, and a lesson: it really does help to let your egg whites come to room temperature before beating them.  I was never patient enough before, and they will beat cold, but this time I let the whites age overnight and wow, the beating went a lot faster.  I also wait a little longer than most people to add the sugar in, because I find it really hard to get to stiff peaks if I added the sugar as soon as the eggs get frothy.