Monday, December 29, 2008

French Yule Log

Is 2008 really coming to an end?  When I look back on the year, it's hard to believe that we're about to close this chapter in our lives.  I can't imagine a better way to say goodbye to 2008 than with a challenging day in the kitchen, courtesy of The Daring Bakers, of course. 

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.

What is a French Yule Log? 

In France you can buy two kinds of Yule log, either the Genoise and Buttercream type, or what is more commonly purchased which is a frozen Yule Log very reminiscent of an ice cream cake, only often it’s not made of ice cream but rather frozen mousse of some sort. In French this is called an entremets which is sometimes loosely translated in English as simply a cream dessert. This also means that this recipe is not holiday-specific, it is also just a scrumptious dessert recipe.

This recipe comes almost entirely from the website, Florilège Gourmand, which belongs to Flore. Her website is in French and different portions of the recipe have been pulled from the recipes in the entremets section.

When I first read through the recipe, I was filled with trepidation.  It was intimidating at first.  After a deep breath or two,  I reread the recipe.  The second time through eased all anxiety.  It is a long recipe, but the individual elements are quite easy.   Organization is the key to making this elegant dessert.

December was in full swing and Jamie and I were having friends over for a little Christmas cheer.  I needed a dessert to compliment our dinner.  The French Yule Log was the perfect dessert.  It was stunning.  As you can see in the photo below, I was lucky to get a picture before it all disappeared!  My favorite layer was the praline crisp.  I had extra, so I used it to decorate the sides of this elegant dessert.

Be brave, take a deep breath, and give this French Yule Log a try.  

FRENCH YULE LOG OR ENTREMETS RECIPE by Flore of Florilège Gourmand

Element #1 Dacquoise Biscuit (Almond Cake)

Preparation time: 10 mn + 15 mn for baking.  
Equipment: 2 mixing bowls, hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment, spatula, baking pan such as a 10”x15” jelly-roll pan, parchment paper
Note:  Try to bake the Dacquoise the same day you assemble the log to keep it as moist as possible.

2.8 oz (3/4cup + 1Tbsp / 80g) almond meal
1.75 oz (1/2 cup / 50g) confectioner’s sugar
2Tbsp (15g) all-purpose flour
3.5oz (100g / ~100ml) about 3 medium egg whites
1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar

1. Finely mix the almond meal and the confectioner's sugar. (If you have a mixer, you can use it by pulsing the ingredients together for no longer than 30 seconds).
2. Sift the flour into the mix.
3. Beat the eggs whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until stiff.
4. Pour the almond meal mixture into the egg whites and blend delicately with a spatula.
5. Grease a piece of parchment paper and line your baking pan with it.
6. Spread the batter on a piece of parchment paper to an area slightly larger than your desired shape (circle, long strip etc...) and to a height of 1/3 inches (8mm).
7. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for approximately 15 minutes (depends on your oven), until golden.
8. Let cool and cut to the desired shape.

Element #2 Dark Chocolate Mousse

Preparation time: 20mn
Equipment: stand or hand mixer with whisk attachment, thermometer, double boiler or equivalent, spatula
Note: You will see that a Pate a Bombe is mentioned in this recipe. A Pate a Bombe is a term used for egg yolks beaten with a sugar syrup, then aerated. It is the base used for many mousse and buttercream recipes. It makes mousses and buttercreams more stable, particularly if they are to be frozen, so that they do not melt as quickly or collapse under the weight of heavier items such as the crème brulee insert.

2.5 sheets gelatin or 5g / 1 + 1/4 tsp powdered gelatin
1.5 oz (3 Tbsp / 40g) granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp (10g) glucose or thick corn syrup
0.5 oz (15g) water
50g egg yolks (about 3 medium)
6.2 oz (175g) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1.5 cups (350g) heavy cream (35% fat content)

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water. (If using powdered gelatin, follow the directions on the package.)
2. Make a Pate a Bombe: Beat the egg yolks until very light in colour (approximately 5 minutes until almost white).
2a. Cook the sugar, glucose syrup and water on medium heat for approximately 3 minutes (if you have a candy thermometer, the mixture should reach 244°F (118°C). If you do not have a candy thermometer, test the sugar temperature by dipping the tip of a knife into the syrup then into a bowl of ice water, if it forms a soft ball in the water then you have reached the correct temperature.
2b. Add the sugar syrup to the beaten yolks carefully by pouring it into the mixture in a thin stream while continuing to beat the yolks. You can do this by hand but it’s easier to do this with an electric mixer.
2c. Continue beating until cool (approximately 5 minutes). The batter should become thick and foamy.
3. In a double boiler or equivalent, heat 2 tablespoons (30g) of cream to boiling. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smooth.
4. Whip the remainder of the cream until stiff.
5. Pour the melted chocolate over the softened gelatin, mixing well. Let the gelatin and chocolate cool slightly and then stir in ½ cup (100g) of WHIPPED cream to temper. Add the Pate a Bombe.
6. Add in the rest of the DWHIPPE cream (220g) mixing gently with a spatula.

Element #3 Dark Chocolate Ganache Insert

Preparation time: 10mn
Equipment: pan, whisk. If you have plunging mixer (a vertical hand mixer used to make soups and other liquids), it comes in handy.
Note: Because the ganache hardens as it cools, you should make it right before you intend to use it to facilitate piping it onto the log during assembly. Please be careful when caramelizing the sugar and then adding the cream. It may splatter and boil.

1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar
4.5oz (2/3 cup – 1 Tbsp/ 135g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
5 oz (135g) dark chocolate, finely chopped
3Tbsp + 1/2tsp (45g) unsalted butter softened

1. Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small saucepan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color (for most of you that means darker than last month’s challenge).
2. While the sugar is melting, heat the cream until boiling. Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil.
3. Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth.
4. Add the softened butter and whip hard and fast. The chocolate should be smooth and shiny.

Element #4 Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert

Preparation time: 10 mn (+ optional 15mn if you make lace crepes)
Equipment: Small saucepan, baking sheet (if you make lace crepes).
Double boiler (or one small saucepan in another), wax paper, rolling pin (or I use an empty bottle of olive oil).
Note: Feuillete means layered (as in with leaves) so a Praline Feuillete is a Praline version of a delicate crisp. There are non-praline variations below. The crunch in this crisp comes from an ingredient which is called gavottes in French. Gavottes are lace-thin crepes. 

To make 2.1oz / 60g of gavottes (lace crepes - recipe by Ferich Mounia):
1/3 cup (80ml) whole milk
2/3 Tbsp (8g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup – 2tsp (35g) all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp / 0.5 oz (15g) beaten egg
1 tsp (3.5g) granulated sugar
½ tsp vegetable oil
1. Heat the milk and butter together until butter is completely melted. Remove from the heat.
2. Sift flour into milk-butter mixture while beating, add egg and granulated sugar. Make sure there are no lumps.
3. Grease a baking sheet and spread batter thinly over it.
4. Bake at 430°F (220°C) for a few minutes until the crepe is golden and crispy. Let cool.

Ingredients for the Praline Feuillete:
3.5 oz (100g) milk chocolate
1 2/3 Tbsp (25g) butter
2 Tbsp (1 oz / 30g) praline
2.1oz (60g) lace crepes(gavottes) 

1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler.
2. Add the praline and the coarsely crushed lace crepes. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate.
3. Spread between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.

Element #5 Vanilla Crème Brulée Insert

Preparation time: 15mn + 1h infusing + 1h baking
Equipment: Small saucepan, mixing bowl, baking mold, wax paper
Note: The vanilla crème brulée can be flavored differently by simply replacing the vanilla with something else e.g. cardamom, lavender, etc...

1/2 cup (115g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
½ cup (115g) whole milk
4 medium-sized (72g) egg yolks
0.75 oz (2 Tbsp / 25g) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean

1. Heat the milk, cream, and scraped vanilla bean to just boiling. Remove from the stove and let the vanilla infuse for about 1 hour.
2. Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks (but do not beat until white).
3. Pour the vanilla-infused milk over the sugar/yolk mixture. Mix well.
4. Wipe with a very wet cloth and then cover your baking mold (whatever shape is going to fit on the inside of your Yule log/cake) with parchment paper. Pour the cream into the mold and bake at 210°F (100°C) for about 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center.  Bake in a water bath.
5. Let cool and put in the freezer for at least 1 hour to firm up and facilitate the final assembly.

Element #6 Dark Chocolate Icing

Preparation time: 25 minutes (10mn if you don’t count softening the gelatin)
Equipment: Small bowl, small saucepan
Note: Because the icing gelifies quickly, you should make it at the last minute.
For other gelatin equivalencies or gelatin to agar-agar equivalencies, look at the notes for the mousse component.

4g / ½ Tbsp powdered gelatin or 2 sheets gelatin
¼ cup (60g) heavy cream (35 % fat content)
2.1 oz (5 Tbsp / 60g) granulated sugar
¼ cup (50g) water
1/3 cup (30g) unsweetened cocoa powder

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes.
2. Boil the rest of the ingredients and cook an additional 3 minutes after boiling.
3. Add gelatin to the chocolate mixture. Mix well.
4. Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to gelify), use immediately.
How To Assemble your French Yule Log

Depending on whether your mold is going to hold the assembly upside down until you unmold it or right side up, this order will be different.
You will want to tap your mold gently on the countertop after each time you pipe mousse in to get rid of any air bubbles.

1) Line your mold or pan, whatever its shape, with rhodoid (clear hard plastic, I usually use transparencies cut to the desired shape, it’s easier to find than cellulose acetate which is what rhodoid translates to in English) OR plastic film. Rhodoid will give you a smoother shape but you may have a hard time using it depending on the kind of mold you’re using.
2) Pipe one third of the Mousse component into the mold.
3) Take the Creme Brulee Insert out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse. Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse.
4) Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.
5) Cut the Praline/Crisp Insert to a size slightly smaller than your mold so that it can be surrounded by mousse. Lay it on top of the mousse you just piped into the mold.
6) Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.
7) Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.
8) Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight edge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.
9) Close with the Dacquoise.
Freeze until the next day.

If you are doing the assembly UPSIDE DOWN with ONE piece of Dacquoise on the BOTTOM ONLY the order is:
1) Mousse
2) Creme Brulee Insert
3) Mousse
4) Praline/Crisp Insert
5) Mousse
6) Ganache Insert
7) Dacquoise

Unmold the cake/log/whatever and set on a wire rack over a shallow pan.
Cover the cake with the icing.
Let set. Return to the freezer.
You may decorate your cake however you wish. The decorations can be set in the icing after it sets but before you return the cake to the freezer or you may attach them on top using extra ganache or leftover mousse, etc...
Transfer to the refrigerator no longer than ½ hour before serving as it may start to melt quickly depending on the elements you chose.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Snap, Crackle, Pop

There are so many wonderful things to say about a roaring fire. When there is a chill in the air, the warmth soothes your soul. Mesmerizing - watching the constant flicker of the flames brings calm.   The smell of a well-built fire brings memories of  childhood camping trips with roasted hot dogs and s'mores.  

The sound.  The snap, crackle, and pop of fresh logs on a fire becomes music to the audience intently watching the flickering flames.  

So, as I was sitting by the fire sipping my hot chocolate, the snap, crackle and pop of the fire reminded me of a favorite childhood cookie.  Chocolate Crackles.  I have it on personal authority that these little gems are Santa's favorite.  When I was a child, these cookies were my gift to Santa on Christmas Eve.  He always managed to leave a powdered sugar trail next to his empty glass of milk.   So as you contemplate your holiday baking, make sure you include a batch of these little wonders.  Once you taste these decadent treats, you'll never hear a fire the same way again.

Chocolate Crackles

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup confectioners' sugar

Melt chocolate over a double boiler, taking care not to get any water in the chocolate.  You can also microwave the chocolate in 15 second increments, stirring in between until melted.  Once melted, set aside and cool.

Meanwhile, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.  

With an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, cream butter and brown sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla, beating until incorporated. Add melted chocolate and mix well.

With the mixer on low speed add 1/2 flour, then the milk, then the remaining flour.  Take care to mix well between each addition.   Divide dough into four equal pieces and wrap each one in plastic.  Refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Pinch off enough dough to roll into a 1-inch ball.  Roll it to completely cover it in granulated sugar.  Then roll it into confectioner's sugar to coat generously.

Space each cookie about 2 inches apart on a silicone baking mat.  Bake until the surfaces crack like the picture.  They take about 14 minutes.  Let cookies cool on wire wracks.  

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Spoonful of Sugar

Baking with a child can be magical. Not in the enchanted forest way, but in a "fill your heart" happy way. Every little detail of the recipe occurs with presence. Whether it is cracking an egg or sifting the flour, a million questions are asked and hopefully patiently answered. There is total awareness of each step accompanied by thoughtful explanation. I am training another baker, after all!

So, when I found myself curled up on the couch with MaryJo, I was delighted when she wanted to bake. She really loves baking with her Aunt Nay Nay! I am so lucky. Our ritual is the same, she grabs a cookbook from my shelf and begins searching for the perfect recipe. She narrows it down to a few choices, and once we read the instructions, the pantry and timing help us make a decision. On this particular day, Molasses Spiced Cookies took the honor.

Baking is very therapeutic for me. When I am baking solo, there are times when I drift into the zone. It's more of a zen-like state, but nevertheless, I am baking and thinking - but not about each other. When you add a child to the mix, it's all about the baking. You are thinking about the ingredients, the techniques, and the "whys". And, at the end of the day, when it's time to sprinkle the cookies with sugar, the sugar becomes the pixie dust ending for this magical day.

This is the time of year when holiday baking goes into full gear. There are many cookies, cakes, pies, and confections to mix, stir, and bake. With Christmas parties and family gatherings, many goodies are expected, if not required.

So for the next few weeks, I will be posting more frequently. I have so much to share with you! Enjoy! And remember, when you need a little pixie dust, grab a child and get baking!

Molasses Cookies
adapted from
Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon all-spice
Pinch of black pepper
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup of packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup of molasses
1 egg

about 3/4 cup sugar for rolling and sprinkling

Whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and pepper. This ensures they are well distributed. With a mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. And the brown sugar and molasses and beat until incorporated. Add the egg and beat until combined. Slowly add the flour, beating until just incorporated. Take care not to over mix once you add the flour. The last few turns of the spatula are best done by hand. You will have a creamy, soft dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a least one hour.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line your cookie sheets with parchment silicone mats. Put the sugar in a small bowl. Pinch off enough dough to form a 1-inch ball. Roll the dough between your palms to form a ball. Then roll the ball in the sugar to coat evenly. Place on the cookie sheet - two inches apart. Using a flat object, slightly press on the cookie dough to flatten. You are aiming for a thickness between 1/4 and 1/2 inch.

Bake the cookies for 12-14 minutes. When done, sprinkle the tops with sugar and transfer to a cooling rack.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I Sometimes Ponder...

I can't believe it's been over 20 years since high school.  Where did the time go?  It seems like yesterday that I was sitting in Mrs. Goldstein's class taking a test about the structure of cells.  I will let you in on a little secret.  I never really enjoyed science.  In fact, other than human biology (and I'm sure you get my drift), science was really boring to me.  The truth is that I had very little interest in mitochondria, osmosis, and other such important topics.  That daily hour of science easily won the dubious honor of the worst hour of my day. For those who know me well, I'm sure you would have guessed math. You would be wrong, very very wrong.  Math was a close second, a very close second, but science won the prize.

I'm sure you're wondering what this confession has to do with baking. Well, I won't keep you in suspense any longer.   So, picture this scene.  Bellied up to my stove, I was lulled into deep thought by the rhythmic stirring.   As I was slowly stirring the very hot and fragrant mixture of butter and sugar in my saucepan, I was struck by the oddest thought, "Cooking is like science." I would have violently shuddered, but the sugar and butter smelled so good that it quelled the urge. Baking and Science in the same thought? In my thoughts? What is the matter with me!?!  How could my yin and yang collide in such glorious fashion?  

Well it did.  With all teasing aside, if you heat up sugar, you are not going to get hot sugar. With a little love and patience, you will have some form of caramel. If you add water, you will get a caramel syrup. If you add butter, you can coerce it into a warm toffee.  Add a little cream and you are on your way to chewy caramels.  Depending on the temperature and the length of time, your confection will either be chewy, crunchy, blond, dark blond, or - hopefully not - burnt.

My objective was to turn my confection into a wonderful toffee...hmmmm. Who doesn't love buttery, crunchy toffee?!?  If you hit the cooking time just right, you will have a wonderful flavored treat that will rival any Heath Bar out there.   The key to making toffee is not to cook it too long.  The color will turn from a toffee blond to a dark amber in a second.  You have to watch it carefully and be prepared to turn it out into your pan very quickly.  If you do cook it too long, not only will you get a burnt flavor, but the toffee will be way too chewy.  You will lose the toffee crunch.  The ingredients are simple.  And, it takes no time at all to make.  This is the perfect time of year to give it a try.  It makes a wonderful gift.  Who wouldn't love to unwrap a box of home made toffee?

The beauty with cooking and baking is the mere fact that you take simple foods and change their physical properties by adding heat and other ingredients. I sometimes ponder...if chemistry would have been this interesting, I may not have dropped it for accounting.


14 tablespoons (1 stick, plus 6 tablespoons) butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Dash salt, fleur de sel if you have it
Semi-sweet chocolate chips
Chopped Pecans
Silpat on a baking sheet

Put butter, sugar, and water in a heavy pan on medium-high heat. Bring to a bubbling boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for about 10 minutes. Remove spoon from pan, and cook until the toffee reaches a toffee color.  A little trick is to match the color to peanut butter. I know it is done when the color is the same as good ole' peanut butter. Some recipes will call for a candy thermometer, but I really found that once you achieve that toffee color, it is ready. Remove from heat and add vanilla and salt. Pour it directly onto the silpat and spread to a 1/4" thickness. Let it cool slightly. Sprinkle the top with chocolate chips. After about a minute, the chocolate chips will be soft. Take the back of a spoon and spread the chocolate. Immediately sprinkle the top with chopped pecans. Cool completely and break into pieces. Store in an airtight container.  

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Delightful Caramel Cake

It's that time again.  The Daring Bakers have struck again, and this time it's a truly sweet treat.  How does Carmel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting sound?  I know, I know, it sounds so sweet!  And it is.  Baking this cake came at the most perfect time.  What better time to serve this sweet treat than at Thanksgiving.  

"What, no pumpkin pie?"  Don't get me wrong, I get the whole "pumpkin pie requirement" for Thanksgiving.  It would be a travesty to my family if I didn't have a few of those sweet gourds resting in pie shells baking in the oven.  This year, I even took the time to bake the pumpkin and puree the goodness. But, I digress - that is for another day and another post.

Back to the Caramel Cake.  It was great to offer a slice of Caramel Cake after our Thanksgiving meal. It gave everyone a choice, an alternative to the old faithful standby. And let me tell you, everyone was delighted!  It may have just earned the honor of becoming a Thanksgiving tradition.

The cake.  The cake.  The cake is soooo moist.  The secret ingredient is homemade caramel syrup.  The caramel syrup is added to the batter and adds such depth of flavor.  It really made all the difference in the world.  

This month's Challenge is a recipe from Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater and her signature Caramel Cake.  The recipe is Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon , as published on Bay Area Bites.

Four Daring Bakers teamed up to present and moderate this sweet challenge.  The hosts for the month of November were Dolores from Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity,  Alex of Blondie and Brownie and Jenny of Foray into Food . And to help with alternative baking,  Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go assisted.  


(recipes are courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon)

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.


2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.


12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Her Favorite Cookie

It is official. I am back! To all my faithful readers, I truly appreciate your loyalty and patience. Through all of the bumps in the road, the one constant, familiar, happy place - is and will always be - my kitchen.

Last weekend was a lazy weekend. There was a chilly crispness in the air that betrayed the bright sunlight. Luckily for me, I was able to spend a day with my best little girl in the world, MaryJo. We began the day with an indulgent breakfast at the world-renowned, world famous IHOP. The best place for strawberry I'm told. I believe that 8 year-olds can be considered syrup aficionados. After filling our bellies, we embarked on a day of baking in a sunny kitchen.

Decisions, decisions. What should we bake? We curled up on the couch with a few of my favorite cookbooks and began looking at the pictures. If you've never discussed the merits of chocolate frosting versus ginger-laced cookies with an 8 year-old, I highly recommend it.  It's inspiring.  By the way, chocolate always wins.

Each recipe caused us to pause and consider the list of ingredients. I knew she was humoring me as we read through the list.  The truth - if the picture didn't make her swoon, it was crossed off and had no hope of ending up in a cookie jar.  

Then all of sudden we turned the page and her eyes lit up.  She exclaimed, "Black and White Cookies! Nay Nay, we have to make those!  It's my favorite cookie from New York!!" And then she licked her lips. The contract was signed.

We proceeded to mix these delicate sponge-like cookies. From cracking eggs and measuring flour, she tried to be so precise. She has the makings of a master baker, I'm so proud. The Black and Whites only take about 12 minutes to bake. But, be careful not to over bake these cookies. If you do, you will miss out on the sponge-like texture. Frankly, you'll miss the point.

Once completely - and I mean completely cooled, we embarked on the frosting. The toughest part about making these New York wonders was having to make a little girl "wait' to frost them. Frosting was the most fun. To get that perfect black and white line, it is easier to frost all of the cookies with the white frosting first and let them set. Then, we came back for round 2 to frost the other side with gooey chocolate frosting. Oh, my! It was a perfect day.

Black and White Cookies
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook

3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
2 large eggs, plus 1 large egg yolk
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Black and White Icing (Recipe below)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside. In a mixer with the paddle attachment, beat butter, sugar, and shortening until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat until combined.

Line baking pans with Silpat nonstick baking mats or parchment paper. Using a 2-ounce scoop, drop five cookies per pan, 3 inches apart. Bake until edges are slightly light brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Black and White Frosting

1 cup heavy cream
3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
5 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
6 tablesppons of boiling water

Whisk cream into sugar until smooth. This is your white frosting. Frost one half of each cookie until the white frosting is set. Return cookies to rack to drip, if necessary.

Combine cocoa with boiling water and stir until dissolved. Add to remaining sugar mixture. Stir to combine for black icing. Use immediately, and frost the other side of each cookie. Spread chocolate frosting over second half of each cookie. Allow cookies to set, about 10 minutes.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Silence is Golden...Delicious, That Is

The other day, a rather random event occurred. I found myself in the company of apples - many, many apples. Here is a random question, have you ever given much thought to the quality control and inspection that occurs at your local grocer? I must say, not me. I never really gave it much thought. But because of the due diligence of one produce manager, I now have jars of applesauce to consume at my whimsy.

A driver of an apple-bearing truck pulled up to the back loading dock, with the intent of emptying his truck and delivering his bounty. Unbeknownst to the driver, he would be denied. The produce manager did a cursory inspection and found a few apples frozen. He immediately rejected the delivery. The very astute driver did not want to waste the glorious apples, so he took it upon himself to drive them to a nearby horse farm. His intent was to leave the apples for the care and feeding of the horses.

Imagine the old days, when people used the communal party line to communicate good news (conjure up memories of Sheriff Andy Taylor picking up the phone and speaking to Sarah asking her to ring a number). Well, that is exactly how that truckload of apples got distributed to my friends. The horse farm owner was overwhelmed by the generosity of the driver and knew that her horses couldn't consume all of those apples. To add to the irony, the apples weren't frozen. They were perfect, unbruised, crisp, Fuji apples.

My girlfriend and I shared a box of apples - over 80 apples. The timing was perfect for my Apple Danish Braid. That only accounted for a few of those glorious apples. We were then left with a dilemma. What were we going to do with the remaining apples? How could we use the apples without waste? Applesauce was the answer.

Applesauce is one of the easiest things to make. You can either can or freeze the results. We chose to can it. It took a little elbow grease to peel about 40 or so apples. Other than that, it was a piece of cake. The recipe calls for cinnamon and sugar. I find that if the apples are sweet, you don't need as much sugar. Try it for yourself.

So, if you are ever in the company of large amounts of apples, make applesauce! I will never buy store bought again.



3 to 4 lbs of peeled, cored, and quartered apples. I used fuji
4 strips of lemon peel
Juice of one lemon
Cinnamon to taste
Sugar to taste (about 1/2 cup to a cup depending on amount of apples)
1 cup of water
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Put all ingredients into a large pot. Cover. Bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes.
Remove from heat. Remove lemon peels. Mash with potato masher or use an immersion blender. Your desired texture will determine which type of masher/puree device to use.

The applesauce is ready to serve, either hot or refrigerated. It freezes easily and lasts up to one year in the freezer. You can also can the applesauce, which is what we did.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Danish Braid

It is that time of month again. As the month of June closes, there is no better way to end the month than to present a Daring Bakers Challenge. This month's challenge was an exciting one for me. A critical ingredient was yeast - and I just don't bake much with yeast. I know...shame on me. So, when I first read the recipe, I was very excited. And you know what, yeast isn't that scary!!

This month was hosted by Kelly of Sass and Veracity and Ben of What’s Cookin’?. They chose a technique that I have never tackled - Making and working with yeasted laminated dough. The recipe was for "Danish Braid" from Sherry Yard’s The Secrets of Baking.

So, what is Danish Braid? Kelly and Ben did a great job of explaining this technique to the Daring Bakers crowd, so I thought I would share it with you.

• Danish dough is in the family of butter-laminated or layered doughs with puff pastry being the ultimate. Danish dough is sweet and is yeast-leavened, however, where as puff pastry is not.
• The process of making Danish dough is less complex than that of puff pastry, but equally as important to achieve best results, and a great starting place to begin to learn about laminated doughs in general.
• Danish dough is extremely versatile, and once made can be used for a variety of baked goods. The possibilities are endless.
Some History:
• According to many sources, “Danish” was born when Danish bakers went on strike, and Viennese bakers were brought in to replace them, creating what is referred to as Vienna Bread.
• Conversely, it is also said that Danish bakers went to Vienna to learn the techniques Viennese bakers employed, and Danish dough was created there.
• In the early 1800’s, C.L. Olsen spent time in Germany, believing in the idea of gaining inspiration from bakers of other countries. He brought knowledge back to Denmark to introduce “foreign” breads to his country, also hiring people of other nationalities to bake in his family bakery.

• Laminated dough – is layered dough created by sandwiching butter between layers of dough
• Detrempe – ball of dough
• Beurrage – butter block
• Turn – each “fold & roll” of the dough produces a single turn in a 3-step process where the dough is folded exactly like a business letter in 3 columns. Each single turn creates 3 layers with this method.

Sherry Yard recommends the following:
• Use well-chilled ingredients. This includes flour if your kitchen temperature is above 70 degrees F (~ 21 degrees C).
• It is recommended that long, continuous strokes be used to roll the dough rather than short, jerky strokes to make sure the butter block is evenly distributed.
• The 30-minute rest/cooling period for the dough between turns is crucial to re-chill the butter and allow the gluten in the dough to relax.
• Excess flour accumulated on the surface of the dough after turns should be brushed off as pockets of flour can interfere with the rise.
• Yard calls for a “controlled 90 degree F environment” for proofing the constructed braid. Please refer to this chart to assist you in this stage of the challenge:

Proofing Temperature For Fresh Dough
(room temp) For Refrigerated Dough
Degrees F Degrees C
70 ~ 21 1-1/2 to 2 hrs. 2-1/2 to 3 hrs.
75 ~ 24 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hrs. 2 to 2-1/2 hrs.
80 ~ 27 1 to 1-1/4 hrs. 1-1/2 to 2 hrs.
85 ~ 29 45 min. to 1 hr. 1 to 1-1/2 hrs.
90 ~ 32 45 min. 1 hr.

• When making cuts in the dough for the braid, make sure they are not too long and provide a solid base for the filling.


Makes 2-1/2 pounds dough

For the dough (Detrempe)
1 ounce fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 large eggs, chilled
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

For the butter block (Beurrage)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Combine yeast and milk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed. Slowly add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice. Mix well. Change to the dough hook and add the salt with the flour, 1 cup at a time, increasing speed to medium as the flour is incorporated. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until smooth. You may need to add a little more flour if it is sticky. Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Without a standing mixer: Combine yeast and milk in a bowl with a hand mixer on low speed or a whisk. Add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice and mix well. Sift flour and salt on your working surface and make a fountain. Make sure that the “walls” of your fountain are thick and even. Pour the liquid in the middle of the fountain. With your fingertips, mix the liquid and the flour starting from the middle of the fountain, slowly working towards the edges. When the ingredients have been incorporated start kneading the dough with the heel of your hands until it becomes smooth and easy to work with, around 5 to 7 minutes. You might need to add more flour if the dough is sticky.

1. Combine butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and then beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Set aside at room temperature.
2. After the detrempe has chilled 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 18 x 13 inches and ¼ inch thick. The dough may be sticky, so keep dusting it lightly with flour. Spread the butter evenly over the center and right thirds of the dough. Fold the left edge of the detrempe to the right, covering half of the butter. Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn has now been completed. Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns, or use a sticky and keep a tally. Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Place the dough lengthwise on a floured work surface. The open ends should be to your right and left. Roll the dough into another approximately 13 x 18 inch, ¼-inch-thick rectangle. Again, fold the left third of the rectangle over the center third and the right third over the center third. No additional butter will be added as it is already in the dough. The second turn has now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.
4. Roll out, turn, and refrigerate the dough two more times, for a total of four single turns. Make sure you are keeping track of your turns. Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight. The Danish dough is now ready to be used. If you will not be using the dough within 24 hours, freeze it. To do this, roll the dough out to about 1 inch in thickness, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. Defrost the dough slowly in the refrigerator for easiest handling. Danish dough will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Makes enough for two braids

4 Fuji or other apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Toss all ingredients except butter in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat until slightly nutty in color, about 6 - 8 minutes. Then add the apple mixture and sauté until apples are softened and caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes. If you’ve chosen Fujis, the apples will be caramelized, but have still retained their shape. Pour the cooked apples onto a baking sheet to cool completely before forming the braid. (If making ahead, cool to room temperature, seal, and refrigerate.) They will cool faster when spread in a thin layer over the surface of the sheet. After they have cooled, the filling can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Left over filling can be used as an ice cream topping, for muffins, cheesecake, or other pastries.

Makes enough for 2 large braids

1 recipe Danish Dough (see below)
2 cups apple filling, jam, or preserves (see below)

For the egg wash: 1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk

1. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the Danish Dough into a 15 x 20-inch rectangle, ¼ inch thick. If the dough seems elastic and shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again. Place the dough on the baking sheet.
2. Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 5-inch-long cuts with a knife or rolling pastry wheel, each about 1 inch apart. Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you’ve already made.
3. Spoon the filling you’ve chosen to fill your braid down the center of the rectangle. Starting with the top and bottom “flaps”, fold the top flap down over the filling to cover. Next, fold the bottom “flap” up to cover filling. This helps keep the braid neat and helps to hold in the filling. Now begin folding the cut side strips of dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished. Trim any excess dough and tuck in the ends.

Egg Wash
Whisk together the whole egg and yolk in a bowl and with a pastry brush, lightly coat the braid.

Proofing and Baking
1. Spray cooking oil (Pam…) onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid. Proof at room temperature or, if possible, in a controlled 90 degree F environment for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume and light to the touch.
2. Near the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven.
3. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan so that the side of the braid previously in the back of the oven is now in the front. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake about 15-20 minutes more, or until golden brown. Cool and serve the braid either still warm from the oven or at room temperature. The cooled braid can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze for 1 month.

This is a completely lovely dough with a fragrance that is to swoon over. And when it's baking? My oh my.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Longer Linger

Hunger pangs, that's how it begins. Our bellys work better than any alarm clock. We know when to eat, and we know it is usually pretty often. As sundown approaches, we begin the mental process of determining what will land on everyone's plate for dinner - right down to the...Dessert. Dessert is always a priority for supper. Sure, we have to figure out the main course, the protein that feeds our muscles. Which hunk of meat will it be - chicken, beef, pork? The side vegetables are equally as important. Come on, really - no one wants a bland string bean. Ultimately, the dinner has to be cohesive and meld together. The tastes must compliment each other, yet not be overpowering.

And, then there is dessert.

I'm not sure if you can blame it on the rampant sweet tooths in my house, or just the childhood magic that always surrounded dessert. My guess, it is the magic, the magic that can never leave the hearts of dessert lovers around the world. Desserts can be richly sweet, creamy, fruity, chocolately, nutty, smooth, cold, hot, utterly delicious.... that always, always linger.

So, as we were deciding our dinner menu, the conversation wasn't complete without deciding which sweet nothing, which sweet something, would linger on our palette after dinner. If we were lucky, it would linger, and linger, and be the sole inspiration of a daydream the next day, wishing for just a taste floating lightly on our tongue. Hoping for a longer linger...

Tonight, the winner was something refreshing, light and delicious. And, are you ready for the irony? It is a healthy concoction!! No joke. This is no laughing matter. This is a dessert that is waistline friendly and mother approved! Sweet, healthy, and tasty!

Let us linger, Lemon Panna Cotta, oh my!

Panna Cotta is an Italian phrase that means "cooked cream". It is a creamy dessert that is a cross between a gelatin and cream brulee. This Italian dessert comes from the Northern Italian region of Piedmont. It is eaten all over Italy and, thankfully, all over the world.

This recipe is crazy easy. The ingredients are quite simple and it comes together quickly, which is always a bonus. Anyone, and I mean anyone, can have success with this recipe. I promise, the the memory will linger all summer long.

Lemon Panna Cotta

1 1/2 cups Greek-style yogurt
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
2 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup each heavy cream and sugar
1 pt strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 Tbsp honey
Additional honey, optional

1. Coat six 6-oz custard cups or ramekins with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk yogurt, half-and-half, lemon zest and vanilla in large bowl.

2. Pour lemon juice in small bowl and sprinkle gelatin over it; let stand 5 minutes to soften.

3. Heat cream and sugar in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in softened gelatin until dissolved, and stir quickly into yogurt mixture until blended.

4. Divide mixture into prepared custard cups (about 1/2 cup in each). Cover; refrigerate about 4 hours or overnight.

5. To serve: Toss strawberries with honey; let stand at room temperature about 10 minutes. Run a small knife around each panna cotta, shake gently and invert onto serving plate to unmold. Serve with strawberries and an additional drizzle of honey, if desired.

From Woman's Day July 8, 2008

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Empty Desires

The weekend weather was warm.  Sweltering actually.   It was the kind of lazy hot day filled with humidity that encouraged hours of wading in a pool and really nothing else.  Our energy was zapped.

The dinner hour was fast approaching, but the desire to actually heat an oven or turn on a stove was completely empty. Unfortunately, so were our bellys. We had to eat. Was a chopped salad the only way to beat the heat?  This was the moment that Jamie Oliver saved me from heat stroke.

I find that food television is addictive, but only a few are really worth my time watching.  Mr. Oliver falls into this category.  He has a knack for cooking just about anything, anywhere, with fresh ingredients.  As it just so happens, I had one of his creations fresh on my mind -   grilled salmon with fennel served with a fresh yogurt cucumber sauce.   Oh, yeah! 

The grill was the key ingredient on this hot day - anything to keep the heat out of the kitchen.   The fresh chopped green salad already had a reservation, so we decided to add the salmon to make a complete and healthy dinner.   

For those of you who have never had fennel, don't be afraid of it.  Fennel has a fragrance similar to anise, but not as strong.  As it cooks, it mellows into a very subtle aroma.  It compliments the salmon in a refreshing way.  When you are looking at fennel in the produce section, make sure you buy fennel with full fronds and may your desires be no longer empty. Enjoy!

Grilled Salmon with Fennel and Yogurt Cucumber Sauce
adapted from Jamie Oliver

1 (3-pound) salmon filet
1 lemon, zest and juice
Bunch of fennel fronds
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chop the fennel fronds, taking care to use the green fronds, not the stalks.  Place in a bowl.  Zest a lemon and add the zest to the bowl.  Add the juice of the zested lemon to the bowl and combine.   
Place the salmon skin side down and, using a sharp knife, slash it evenly all over on the fleshy side, making the incisions about 1/2-inch deep.   Salt and pepper the the salmon.  Scatter the chopped fennel fronds over the salmon, taking care to stuff the slits with the fennel mixture. Rub the skin side with olive oil and drizzle the top (with the fennel mixture) with the olive oil.  

When your grill is hot,  place the salmon skin-side down. The salmon will start to cook from the bottom up and after about 4-6 minutes the skin should be beautifully golden brown. Carefully flip the salmon over and cook for a further 2 to 3 minutes on the other side until desired doneness. While it's cooking, you can gently ease the skin away from the fish if you wish.

Yogurt Cucumber Sauce

1 cucumber, peeled and diced
1 1/4 cups plain yogurt
Small bunch fresh oregano, chopped
Small bunch fresh thyme leaves, chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil

Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise, remove and discard the seeds, chop it up and mix it in a bowl with the yogurt. Add the chopped oregano and thyme.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Drizzle over a little extra-virgin olive oil. 

Break the salmon up with a fork into 4 to 6 chunks. Serve with the cucumber yogurt sauce.  

Sunday, June 8, 2008

I Scream, You Scream, We all Scream, for...

ICE CREAM! How lovely a thought. No. How lovely a taste. Homemade ice cream is so decadent, so indulgent, yet so simple. All you need is milk, sugar, eggs, and your imagination.

Tonight, the stars shined on ruby red berries....sweet summer strawberries to be exact. I sliced the strawberries and let them become happy with sugar, fresh lemon zest, and a tad of lemon juice. You can see how juicy the strawberries became with a little urging. I almost grabbed a spoon and said to heck with the ice cream. Thank goodness I restrained myself. The strawberry ice cream was meant to be churned.

There are different methods for churning ice cream at home. Ice cream is divided into two basic categories: custard-style (or French custard-style) and Philadelphia-style (or "American"). In the end, it really comes down to your personal preference. Custard ice cream is, as the name suggests, made from a custard base. Egg yolks or whole eggs are whisked together with hot milk or cream and sugar, and cooked gently until the mixture becomes thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Egg yolks are natural emulsifiers, and the resulting custard makes an ice cream that is remarkably smooth and rich. Philadelphia-style ice cream contains no egg yolks and does not require cooking. It's based purely on cream and sugar, and is very delicate-tasting, with so few ingredients.

This recipe is the best of both worlds. It actually contains eggs, but no cooking. You basically use a whisk and whip the daylights out of the eggs. I mean whip the daylights... At first they become frothy, but the more you whip - and yes, your arm will feel like it is going to fall off - the eggs turn into this beautiful thick cream. Once the sugar is incorporated it resembles a pastry cream. It adds so much depth and creaminess to the churned ice cream. It is, by far, my favorite method of making ice cream. And don't forget your bonus, you can get a workout in the process. Does that mean I get seconds?

Fresh Strawberry Ice-Cream

Sweet Cream Base
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups whipping cream
1 cup milk

1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/3 cup sugar
juice from 1/2 lemon
zest from 1 lemon

Combine strawberries, lemon juice, lemon zest, and 1/3 cup sugar. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Once the strawberries have macerated, remove about 1/2 cup and chop in a food processor or blender. This adds a nice thickness to the strawberries and turns the ice cream a pretty shade of pink.

Prepare the sweet cream base. Whisk eggs vigorously in a bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the sugar and continue whisking for 2-3 minutes longer. The eggs will become thick and creamy, almost resembling a pastry cream. Add the cream and milk, stir until fully combined. Add the strawberry mixture into the sweet cream base. Pour into an ice-cream maker and churn according to manufacturers instructions. I have a small Cuisinart ice-cream maker which works great.

Friday, June 6, 2008

I've been tagged!

I have been tagged! Megan from Megans Cookin has tagged me for a meme.  How fun - at least for me.  Here is a little (and I mean little) insight into Nay Nay.  

The rules: Each participant answers questions about himself. At the end of the post the participant tags 5 people. Their names are posted letting them know they’ve been tagged. They then have to read the participant’s blog. The tagged let’s the tagger know when he’s posted his answers. Here we go!

What was I doing ten years ago?

10 years ago my hubby and I packed our car and moved from Atlanta, Georgia to Denver, Colorado. We lived there for 3 years before returning to Georgia.  It was an awesome experience.  

What are five (non-work) things on my to-do list for today:

1. Laundry. 
2. Make strawberry ice cream.
3. Go to friends house for dinner.
4. Make Sauerkraut for the first time.
5. Workout.

Five Snacks I enjoy:

I"m not really a snacker, but when I do I reach for 

Salt and Vinegar potato chips - only Kettle brand
Blackbean and corn dip

Things I would do if I were a billionaire:

Spread happiness.

Places I have lived:

Savannah, GA.
Atlanta, GA.
Denver, CO.

Jobs I have had:

Filing clerk in a doctors office
YMCA camp counselor
Housewares department at local department store
sales in a jewelry store
Software Consultant
Software Sales

I tag:

Fran of Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie
Deborah of Taste and Tell
Shannon of Grey Salt is My Favorite
Laura Rebecca of Laura Rebecca's Kitchen
Linda of Tender Crumb

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


For being so tiny, cupcakes are such a grand idea. The very idea of 12 little delicious wonders rising in the oven at the same time makes me giddy.  Just take a whiff, a deep deep sniff of the sweet smell that wafts from the kitchen thoughout the house. The aroma floats up in the air 12 times, 12 little times.  Now, how sweet is that?

In only about 20 itty bitty minutes, you have a dozen moist little fairy cakes that are in need of a crown.  A crown so creamy and richly chocolate, the very thought of it would make a grown man weep.  Dark chocolate creamy frosting...May I have a spoon?

Once these little wonders are properly crowned with frosting, the anticipation becomes almost unbearable.  The first bite is so near.  Fun, I smell fun around the corner.  

Choices. We can eat these in a very dignified manner. All we need is a proper dessert plate, a delicate fork, and a napkin placed gently in our lap. Or, even better, we can unleash our inner child and forget the forks. Forget the plate. Forget the napkin.

With a cupcake in one hand, I can see my finger swipe a swirl of frosting onto my finger for a taste. It takes all of my self-control to not lick the top free of frosting. Memories of celebrating my sixth birthday flash before my eyes.  Before I can stop myself, I will have devoured that little cupcake, almost wanting  a second one.   Almost.

Yellow Butter Cupcakes With Chocolate Frosting
adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two standard 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners; set aside. Into a medium bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then beat in vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour; beat until combined after each addition.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cups so that each is about two-thirds full. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until cupcakes are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool. Invert cupcakes onto the rack; reinvert and let cool completely, top sides up. Spread or pipe chocolate frosting on each cupcake. They can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. Makes 2 dozen.

Dark Chocolate Frosting

Makes about 5 cups.

1 pound best-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
6 tablespoons boiling water
3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
Pinch of Salt

Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) simmering water. Turn off the heat; stir occasionally until chocolate has melted completely, about 15 minutes. Set bowl on countertop, and let chocolate cool to room temperature, 25 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, combine cocoa powder and boiling water in a small bowl; stir until cocoa is dissolved.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, confectioners' sugar, and salt on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add melted chocolate; beat on low speed until combined, 1 to 2 minutes scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the cocoa mixture.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Night at the L'Opéra

Today is the big reveal for the May Daring Bakers Challenge, and boy was it a doozy. Four women teamed together to host this challenge. I have to give a big thank you to: Cream Puffs in Venice, La Mia Cucina, Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie, and Whiskful. They picked a wonderful and challenging recipe to tackle. It was a perfect Daring Bakers Challenge.  They chose Opera Cake.

For those of you that don't know about this cake, it's an extremely elegant and polished French dessert that is believed to have been created around the beginning of the 1900s. Gourmet magazine writes, “There are many stories about the origins of this cake, known as both Clichy cake and Opéra cake. Many believe that Louis Clichy was its creator because he premiered the gâteau, with his name written across the top, at the 1903 Exposition Culinaire in Paris. It became the signature cake of Clichy's shop on the Boulevard Beaumarchais. However, another pastry shop, Dalloyau, sold a very similar dessert, known as L'Opéra (in honor of the Paris Opera), and some claim that theirs was the original.”

Before I get into the recipe and assembly instructions, I must take a moment to discuss my personal experiences with this detailed cake. At first blush, the recipe itself will seem daunting, almost impossible to complete. However, after reading and re-reading and re-reading the recipe, I took a deep breath and began the baking. The way the layers are organized, you could actually spread this task over multiple days, but I opted for the big bang approach. I took a lazy Saturday day and went to the L'Opéra. Cue the music, please.

I chose to make my own jaconde flour by grinding up blanched almonds. You could use almond meal, but the idea of making my own "flour" seemed so rustic. I’m so glad I did. It was easy, and the flavor was grand. I pretty much followed the recipe to a T. My only deviation to the recipe came when making the syrup and the butter cream. Instead of using plain water, I decided to use Orange Flower Water. It gave the syrup and buttercream a very fragrant perfume. I also flavored the white ganache with Bailey's.  It was delicate and decadent.

Everything came out perfectly according to the recipe. The assembly was a little tricky, but in the end, my cake came out fine. It could have been more beautiful had I had a more decorative flair. I still loved it, though. The best part was that everyone loved Eating it!!

So what exactly is an Opéra Cake?

Well it's a cake that is made up (usually) of five components: a joconde (a cake layer), a syrup (to wet the joconde), a buttercream (to fill some of the layers), a ganache or mousse (to top the final cake layer) and a glaze (to cover the final layer of cake or of ganache/mousse).

For the Joconde

(Note: The joconde can be made up to 1 day in advance and kept wrapped at room temperate)

What you’ll need:

•2 12½ x 15½-inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans (Note: If you do not have jelly-roll pans this size, do not fear! You can use different-sized jelly-roll pans like 10 x 15-inches.)
•a few tablespoons of melted butter (in addition to what’s called for in the ingredients’ list) and a brush (to grease the pans)
•parchment paper
•a whisk and a paddle attachment for a stand mixer or for a handheld mixer
•two mixing bowls (you can make do with one but it’s preferable to have two)


6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds (Note: If you do not want to use almond meal, you can use another nut meal like hazelnut. You can buy almond meal in bulk food stores or health food stores, or you can make it at home by grinding almonds in the food processor with a tablespoon or two of the flour that you would use in the cake. The reason you need the flour is to prevent the almonds from turning oily or pasty in the processor. You will need about 2 cups of blanched almonds to create enough almond meal for this cake.)
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. (1½ ounces; 45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1.Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.

2.Preheat the oven to 425◦F. (220◦C).

3.Line two 12½ x 15½- inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.

4.In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or using a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. If you do not have another mixer bowl, gently scrape the meringue into another bowl and set aside.

5.If you only have one bowl, wash it after removing the egg whites or if you have a second bowl, use that one. Attach the paddle attachment to the stand mixer (or using a handheld mixer again) and beat the almonds, icing sugar and eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes.

6.Add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined (be very careful not to overmix here!!!).

7.Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture and then fold in the melted butter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.

8.Bake the cake layers until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. This could take anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes depending on your oven. Place one jelly-roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second jelly-roll pan in the bottom third of the oven.

9.Put the pans on a heatproof counter and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the pans over, and unmold.

10.Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.

For the Syrup

(Note: The syrup can be made up to 1 week in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan


½ cup (125 grams) water (I used orange flower water)
⅓ cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1 to 2 tbsp. of the flavouring of your choice (i.e., vanilla extract, almond extract, cognac, limoncello, coconut cream, honey etc., which I ommitted due to the orange blossom water)

1.Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.

2.Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

For the Buttercream

Note: The buttercream can be made up to 1 month in advance and packed in an airtight container. If made way in advance, you can freeze the buttercream. Alternatively you can refrigerate it for up to 4 days after making it. To use the buttercream simply bring it to room temperature and then beat it briefly to restore its consistency.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan
•a candy or instant-read thermometer
•a stand mixer or handheld mixer
•a bowl and a whisk attachment
•rubber spatula


1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
¼ cup (60 grams) water (I used orange flower water)
seeds of one vanilla bean (split a vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds) or 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract 1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¾ sticks (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
flavouring of your choice (a tablespoon of an extract, a few tablespoons of melted white chocolate, citrus zest, etc.)

1.Combine the sugar, water and vanilla bean seeds or extract in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves.

2.Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225◦F (107◦C) [*Note: Original recipe indicates a temperature of 255◦F (124◦C), however, when testing the recipe I found that this was too high so we heated to 225◦F and it worked fine] on a candy or instant-read thermometer. Once it reaches that temperature, remove the syrup from the heat.

3.While the syrup is heating, begin whisking the egg and egg yolk at high speed in the bowl of your mixer using the whisk attachment. Whisk them until they are pale and foamy.

4.When the sugar syrup reaches the correct temperature and you remove it from the heat, reduce the mixer speed to low speed and begin slowly (very slowly) pouring the syrup down the side of the bowl being very careful not to splatter the syrup into the path of the whisk attachment. Some of the syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl but don’t worry about this and don’t try to stir it into the mixture as it will harden!

5.Raise the speed to medium-high and continue beating until the eggs are thick and satiny and the mixture is cool to the touch (about 5 minutes or so).

6.While the egg mixture is beating, place the softened butter in a bowl and mash it with a spatula until you have a soft creamy mass.

7.With the mixer on medium speed, begin adding in two-tablespoon chunks. When all the butter has been incorporated, raise the mixer speed to high and beat until the buttercream is thick and shiny.

8.At this point add in your flavouring and beat for an additional minute or so.

9.Refrigerate the buttercream, stirring it often, until it’s set enough (firm enough) to spread when topped with a layer of cake (about 20 minutes).

For the White Chocolate Ganache

(Note: The mousse can be made ahead and refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan
•a mixer or handheld mixer


7 ounces white chocolate
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)
1 tbsp. liquer of your choice, such as Bailey’s
1.Melt the white chocolate and the 3 tbsp. of heavy cream in a small saucepan.
2.Stir to ensure that it’s smooth and that the chocolate is melted. Add the tablespoon of liqueur to the chocolate and stir. Set aside to cool completely.
3.In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form.
4.Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse.
5.If it’s too thin, refrigerate it for a bit until it’s spreadable.
6.If you’re not going to use it right away, refrigerate until you’re ready to use.

For the Glaze

(Note: It’s best to make the glaze right when you’re ready to finish the cake.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan or double boiler


14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup heavy cream (35% cream)

1.Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream. Whisk the mixture gently until smooth.
2.Let cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the chilled cake. Using a long metal cake spatula, smooth out into an even layer.
3.Place the cake into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set.

Assembling the Opéra Cake

(Note: The finished cake should be served slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day).

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Working with one sheet of cake at a time, cut and trim each sheet so that you have two pieces (from each cake so you’ll have four pieces in total): one 10-inch (25-cm) square and one 10 x 5-inch (25 x 12½-cm) rectangle.

Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.

Spread about three-quarters of the buttercream over this layer.

Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.

Spread the remaining buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).

Prepare the ganache/mousse (if you haven’t already) and then spread it on the top of the last layer of the joconde. Refrigerate for at least two to three hours to give the ganache/mousse the opportunity to firm up.

Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.

Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Baby, Baby, Baby Back Ribs!

I love Memorial Day weekend. Not only is Memorial Day a time to commemorate U.S. men and women who perished while in military service to our country, but it is also serves as a time to gather as a family. It has become the traditional summer kick-off celebration, which brings me to summer.

Summer. I truly love summer. It is by far my most favorite season. I love the long days, the warm weather, having a glass of wine on the screen porch, dipping my toes in the lake, and feeling the sun's rays on my nose.

For us Americans, it's not unusual to celebrate Memorial Day with a big cookout covered with hamburgers and hotdogs. That would have been an easy choice for us, but we felt a little frisky and decided to buck tradition. Instead of opting for tried and true burgers and dogs, we decided to grill baby back ribs. It was an awesome choice, if I do say so myself.

Now, if you know ribs, you know that there is a lot of debate in the rib department. Depending on what part of the country you are from, you will have strong opinions when it comes to ribs. Should they be beef ribs or pork ribs? Dry rub or wet sauce? Boil them first or slowly bake them? The choices are endless.

What I have found to be the best method, the one that absolutely seals in the flavor, the one that produces the most succulent fall of the bone ribs is actually a combination of methods. My favorite way to prepare them is to begin with pork baby back ribs. Slather them with a spicy rub, tightly cover and slow roast in the oven, and then finish on the grill with a dousing of homemade barbecue sauce. Whew! Just writing that made me hungry. Whatever your preference, I urge you to give this one a try.

So, the next time you get a hankering for ribs, give this recipe a go. First of all, it's easy peasy. Guaranteed, you will need lots of napkins, and you will become very skilled at licking your fingers! At the end of the day, you won't be disappointed! In fact, you'll begin dreaming of the next time you can have a bite and a lick. I know I am.


3 tablespoons smoky paprika
2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoon ground cumin
3 teaspoons chili powder
2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoon onion powder
2 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon celery salt
1 teaspoon oregano, crushed
1 tablespoon dried mustard

Combine paprika, salt, sugar, brown sugar, cumin, chili powder, pepper, cayenne, onion powder, garlic powder, celery salt, oregano and dried mustard in bowl; mix well. For a smoother rub, puree ingredients in a spice grinder until well combined and all pieces are uniform (the rub will be very fine and tan in color).

Nay Nay's Barbeque Sauce

3 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (40-oz.) bottle Heinz ketchup
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup brown sugar
1/3 cup Worcerstershire sauce
2 teaspoons liquid smoke
3 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon dry (ground) mustard
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger

Heat the oil in a 3-quart saucepan, add the onion and garlic, and cook for five to seven minutes or until soft.
Add the ketchup, cider vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce and liquid smoke and stir well. Stir in the chili powder, paprika, mustard, black pepper and ginger. Let the sauce simmer for about 20 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally.

Baby Back Ribs

4 racks baby back ribs
1 recipe Nay Nay's Barbecue Sauce, recipe above

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cut the racks of ribs in half crosswise. Rub the ribs, paying special attention to the meaty side, with the rub. Lay the rib pieces meat side down in an 11 by 13-inch baking dish. The pieces will overlap slightly.
Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake until the meat begins to pull away from the ends of the bones and the ribs are just tender, about 2-3 hours.
Preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high heat.
Grill the ribs, brushing them with about half the sauce, until they're crispy and heated through, about 10 minutes. Move the ribs around as they grill; the sugar in the barbecue sauce makes it easy for them to burn. Put out the rest of the sauce for dipping or brush it over the ribs.