Posted in baking, foam

Daring Baker Challenge: Yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake

The March 2011 Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria’s Collection and Jamie of Life’s a Feast. Ria and Jamie challenged The Daring Bakers to bake a yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake.

Recipe here.

filling station
All ready for my guests to dive in.

I used 545g of bread flour (the recipe gave a range for the amount of flour, and didn’t specify the type), and it was perfect.  The dough started out sticky and wasn’t anymore at the end of kneading.

I changed the shape of the bread/cake.  It was supposed to be rolled into a log and then made into a ring, exactly like the December challenge (especially because I filled my December challenge bread with this method instead of by mixing things into the dough).  I decided I would rather have my friends share the work with me and try something new, so I had a few people over and we each took part of the dough and rolled it up croissant-style: cut into an acute isosceles triangle, put fillings on it, and roll from the short edge to the point.

croissant construction
I decided mine was too big and cut it in two.
constructed croissants
We didn't skimp on the filling.

I’m in a cold climate, and since I was having people over to shape the bread, I wanted to make sure it rose on time.  So for the first rise, I put the bowl of dough in the oven with just the pilot light on.  It worked great.

For fillings, we used meringue, chocolate chips, chopped pecans, and dried cranberries.  Delicious.

I tried to do an egg wash the lazy way: rub some meringue on top.  It came out looking like bread with a little meringue rubbed on top, haha.

finished product

I baked mine for about 18 minutes, which is shorter than the recipe says, which is expected given that mine had more surface area, and that my oven is crazy.  My thermometer read about 205F when they were done.

You’re supposed to let bread cool first, but we ate them hot, and they were great!  I had no problems with this dough, so I would definitely use that recipe again.

with lemon curd
The meringue left me with three egg yolks, which is just the right number for making lemon curd.
the inside
Very well-behaved dough.
Posted in baking, foam, freezing

Daring Baker Challenge: Baked Alaska

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and
. 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”.

The pdf with all the recipes is here.

Brown Butter Pound Cake

I had never browned butter before and was a little nervous about burning it, but it went fine.  I just put it all in the pan – didn’t even worry about cutting it up – and heated and stirred and heated and stirred until the milk solids turned brown.  Then got it out of that hot pan quick, because they get browner and browner really fast.

The annoying part is cooling the butter just enough to where it’s solid but soft for creaming with the sugar.  From there, it’s just a regular creaming method pound cake.  A breeze in my stand mixer :).

Cake and ice cream layers

Zabaglione Ice Cream

I thought a French vanilla would go well with the brown butter cake, and I looked through The Perfect Scoop for something like that but a little more exciting.  Enter zabaglione ice cream.  Zabaglione is a poured custard made with egg yolks, marsala wine, and sugar.  I adore it.  We used it in the DB tiramisu challenge.  But Lebovitz’s recipe says to use 1/2 cup of dry marsala for a 1 quart recipe (he just substitutes it in for 1/2 cup of the dairy), and that seemed like a lot.  Alcohol makes ice cream softer, and I wanted mine to stay frozen during the baking and flambeing, plus I wasn’t sure if my guests would love the flavor as much as I do; some people don’t go for it as much.  So I used 1/4 of a cup.  This is even less when you consider that I increased the recipe to make 1.5 quarts.  I still tasted it, though; I think it might have been a little overpowering if I had used as much as he said, but a little more would have been fine.

Besides that, I followed his recipe, egg yolks and all.  I found that when I use light cream, as I am wont to do instead of all heavy cream or Lebovitz’s mix of whole milk and heavy cream, the yolks don’t make it too fatty.  I had some freezing issues due to not having frozen my ice cream maker’s core early enough, so I couldn’t judge this ice cream very accurately, but I think it turned out pretty well.

Unbaked meringue on the first one
Baked meringue on the second one













I could make meringue in my sleep, which was good to know because I decided to wait until my guests had arrived to make it.  That was a Good Idea; I piped, baked, flambeed, and served one baked Alaska before doing the same to the next one, and in the meantime, the quality of the meringue had noticeably declined.  It was less satiny, starting to separate I guess.  But not too much – purely an aesthetic issue at that point.  Having the stand mixer do the beating for me made doing this mid-party less of a hassle.

I tried to do some pretty piping but I wanted to make sure to cover every little cranny since the meringue is an insulator for the ice cream, and that necessitated going over some spots multiple times.  But all in all, not too bad.

Don’t know how to make meringue?  Commit this to memory:

Beat room temperature egg whites with a few sprinkles of cream of tartar and cornstarch.  When they start to turn opaque, add sugar (1/4 cup or 60 g per white is customary for meringue shells; in this case, about half that much*) and keep beating.  Stop when they stick out pretty straight from the beater when you stop it and pull it out of the foam.

There, now you can make meringue in your sleep, too.

*1/4 cup or 60g per white is twice as much sugar per egg white by either volume or weight.  This recipe used slightly less than an equal weight of egg whites and sugar.  It was a nice amount.


Heat up the broiler and put the Alaska under it for five minutes.  My ice cream was definitely starting to melt at this point, which didn’t matter since my Alaskas were so horizontal, but one of those tower-type ones might have had trouble.



I was kind of afraid to flambe them, because I had never done it before, but it’s so easy.  Just pour a little alcohol – at least 40% abv, I think; I used cognac – into a pan, heat it until it just starts to bubble, pour it on the dessert, and light it with a long match.  I had better luck lighting the pan of alcohol, actually, and then poured the flaming alcohol onto the dessert.  It sounds dangerous, but it went fine.  It looks really cool if you turn out the lights.

This part is unnecessary and actually not traditional for baked Alaska; mine were technically bombe Alaska because I did this.  But it makes a great show! And the leftover booze that soaked in tasted good.

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 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.