Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Pastry School Update

(Pinup Illustration by the great Gil Elvgren)

I did it!!! I finished the Pastry and Baking Program at Escoffier Online International Culinary Academy!! It was such a great experience and I would definitely recommend the program to anyone.  I loved it so much that I have enrolled in their specialty program for Healthy Baking, which will teach me the ins and outs of baking gluten free, vegan, raw and farm-to-table among other healthy baking techniques.

If you are local (San Gabriel Valley/Los Angeles area of California) and are interested in ordering for a special occasion or just because email me!!  No fondant...strictly homemade goodness like moms and grannies make.  Check out my Flickr page for a "taste" of my work, but we can work together to create something to suit your tastes!

I look forward to working with you...Thank you for your support!

Happy Baking,
Dani xoxo

Monday, September 15, 2014

Salty Sweet Perfection

I'm sure you have heard it before, but adding a little salt to chocolate takes the flavor to a whole new level. Not only are these fudgey morsels adorned with perfect little flecks of sea salt, the pretzel crust on these brownies was a real "ah-ha!" moment for me. As soon as I tasted the salty, crunchy crust against the sweet and chewy texture of the brownie my mind started racing while thinking "why haven't I been using pretzel crust all these years!?!"

Even if you never make these brownies, which would be a HUGE mistake, I would definitely hang onto this pretzel crust recipe. It can be used to compliment so many different desserts like as a pie crust or do what I did and use it for a cupcake crust...delish!

Happy Baking!!
Dani xoxo

Pretzel Crust (Adapted from Bakers Royale and Better Homes & Gardens)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup crushed pretzels
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup melted butter

Directions: Line a 9x13 baking pan with parchment paper and pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl stir together crushed pretzels, flour, brown sugar, and baking soda. Once combined stir in the melted butter. Pour the mixture into the bottom of your prepared pan and pat it down.  Bake for about 10 minutes.

Dark Chocolate Brownie (Adapted from Bakers Royale and Better Homes & Gardens)

7 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions: Place a bowl over a saucepan with simmering water (bain-marie).  In the bowl combine chocolate, butter, and water; stir constantly until chocolate is melted.  Or, to save having to do a bunch of dishes later, place the chocolate, butter, and water in a medium bowl and microwave in 20 sec increments stirring after each time until the chocolate is fully melted.  Be careful you don't overheat the chocolate!  Transfer to a large bowl.

Add the granulated sugar and brown sugar to chocolate mixture; beat with an electric mixer on low to medium speed until combined. Add the eggs and vanilla; beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Add flour, salt, and cinnamon. Now beat on low speed until combined. Spread batter over the pretzel crust.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Topping: Drizzle with melted chocolate and caramel sauce and sprinkle with sea salt or fleur de sel. Cut into bars.  They are rich so I would suggest small bars.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Where Do I Begin????

Wow...I's been forrrrrevvvverrrrrr!! Why the long absence you may ask, well, I have been busy....baking a baby!!

My husband and I welcomed a beautiful baby boy in June and we are over the moon in love.
You can't tell from the picture, but it is seriously crazy what changes happen to the body while pregnant. About 6 weeks in I broke out in full body hives that looked like huge red welts. It was nuts, but I couldn't complain too much since it only lasted a few days, thank goodness, and I had zero morning sickness.

Then, towards the end of my pregnancy I was retaining so much water the tops of my feet were like memory foam pillows. If you touched them with your finger it would leave an indent that would take a few seconds to disappear, but after all was said and done I would do it all over again to experience the miracle of life. Sorry...totally cheesy, but I's a magical experience.
So fast forward to 3months later and I am just getting back into the groove of things. I am almost finished with pastry school; my school was nice enough to give me an extension, and I am learning to deal with extreme sleep deprivation.

As a new mommy I am trying to find balance in my life. I am back to work so I am trying to figure out how to find time to bake while also spending time with the loves of my life.

This recipe is actually perfect for busy moms who want to bake something special, but 1.) don't have time to go to the store to get specialty ingredients; and, 2.) just don't have time in general.

It's an adaptation of the strawberries and cream bars I previously made from the awesome blog Cookies and Cups. I love it because it only takes a handful of ingredients that are really staple ingredients in a lot of homes, you can change things to suit your tastes or use what you have on hand and it doesn't take that long to make. 

Plus, it looks impressive and like it took all day, but I managed to whip it up while my baby was taking a little cat nap. 

Spiced Toasted Walnut Tart

Bake Time: 25-30min
Bake Temp: 350 degrees

1 box of Spice Cake Mix (use what you have!)
1/3 cup butter softened
2 eggs, divided
8oz package of cream cheese softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon vanilla (or another flavor you like)
1/2 to 3/4 cup walnuts roughly chopped (any kind of nut will do) OPTIONAL (or some berries, or candy...use your imagination)

Essentials: 10 inch tart pan or 13 x 9 baking dish
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease your tart pan or baking dish (I used Pam spray) and set it aside. Blend the cake mix, butter, and one egg together in a bowl until combined. Take the mixture, which will look like cookie dough, reserve 1 cup for the topping and pour the rest into your prepared pan or dish. Press it into the bottom and up the sides a bit. Bake it off in your pre-heated oven for 10 minutes. 

While the crust is baking make the filling by blending the cream cheese, sugar, remaining egg and vanilla in a blender until combined and smooth and set aside.

Once the crust comes out of the oven pour your cream cheese mixture over the crust, sprinkle with the reserved crust crumble and walnuts.  Throw it back in the oven for about 25-30 minutes until it's golden brown and the center is set (my oven took about 27 minutes). 

Once cooled you can pop it in the fridge to chill until it's time to eat. It is a great make-ahead treat and a perfect dessert to take for a dinner party, holiday get together or potluck.  This recipe in particular would be greatly complimented by a cinnamon flavored whipped cream and some fresh berries to give a real depth of flavor and to keep it from being one note. 

Any uneaten portion should be tightly wrapped and stored in the fridge for a midnight snack!

It feels good to be back...I hope you try this recipe and let me know what you think or what changes you have made. 

Happy Baking,
Dani xoxo

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Oh Là Là! J'adore Madeleines!

It's funny, I love nothing more than making interesting and flavorful desserts, but what I crave most often are much simpler treats.  Nine times out of ten I reach for a madeleine or a shortbread cookie before I reach for a chocolate chip cookie or a slice of cheesecake.  I even prefer Trefoils Girl Scout cookies over the über popular Thin Mints.

The first time I ever tasted a madeleine was at know...those perfect little packages of three right by the register...I was hooked at first bite.  I still remember thinking to myself OH MY!! THESE ARE FREAKING AMAZING!! They were flawless...buttery, spongey and delicate. The perfect compliment to my high calorie latte.  I was so obsessed that I quickly went online and purchased a perfectly scalloped pan (similar) and began searching...and searching...and searching for the perfect recipe, but I have always been unsuccessful.  My previous attempts were either too cakey or too dense. It was driving me crazy, I just couldn't get the right texture and flavor.
Madeleine Mise en Place and
Blending of Sugar, Eggs, Milk & Vanilla
I am happy to say that my search for the perfect madeleine recipe finally came to an end while browsing through my school's online recipe catalogue.  These perfect little sponge cakes require eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla, flour and melted butter.
Addition and Blending of the Sifted Flour and Melted Butter
Take care to aerate the ingredients at each step because the batter needs to stay light and fluffy.  I chose to try the old school method of using a whisk to combine the eggs, sugar, milk and vanilla.  By the end my arms were dying, but I'll take a little workout where I can get it.  Next, I folded in the sifted flour until just combined then added the melted butter and folded some more.  
Piping and Baking
So here's the trick to madeleine batter...chill in the fridge for a bit before you fill the buttered and floured molds or muffin tins.  This trick was a happy accident because the recipe actually did not call for chill time.

While the first batch was baking I placed the remaining batter in the fridge while my husband and I had dinner.  When I pulled the first batch from the oven I was kind of disappointed because they were too dense.  Totally bummed that my search for the perfect recipe hadn't ended here, I pulled the remaining batter from the fridge and proceeded to bake my second batch....SUCCESS!! They were delicate, moist and spongey...just like those first madeleines I tasted so many years ago.  I can't tell you how happy I was.
Spongey, Moist and Dusted with Powdered Sugar
The flavor of madeleines can be elevated by dusting with powdered sugar like I've done above, dipped in chocolate or filled with your favorite curd as seen here by Rachel Khoo in an episode of my favorite cooking show The Little Paris Kitchen, which can also be found in her cookbook by the same name. (Mobile users click here to view the video for her Madeleines à la Crème au Citron)

So tell me, do your sweets need to be over the top or are you a secret plain Jane like me?  I would also love to hear what dessert stopped you in your tracks the first time you tasted it.  Coming up very soon I will be doing a post on my next assignment...puff pastry...eek!! Wish me luck!

Happy Baking,
Dani xoxo

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Go Coo Coo for Choux!

You are probably wondering why the heck I waited so long to do a post on choux pastry considering it is my blog's namesake, but the truth is I wanted the post to coincide with my choux pastry assignment under Classic Pastry Elements, which I am very proud to say that I received 100% on!! Whoo Hoo!!
Choux Mise en Place
Like I have said before, choux paste is sooo simple to make. Just look at these ingredients: butter, water, flour, eggs and salt...THAT'S IT!! You can always add a little sugar too when you add the flour for a little more sweetness. 
Preparation of Choux Dough
All you have to do is slowly bring the butter and water to a boil. I like to melt the butter a bit first so that the water doesn't evaporate too much and mess up the liquid to flour ratio.

Once it comes to a boil you need to take it off the heat and add the sifted flour all at once. This is essential to keeping the paste from becoming lumpy.  After it has combined put it back on the heat and stir constantly until a white film develops on the bottom of the pot.  Then remove the dough from the heat and allow it to cool in a bowl on the counter.
Silky Pate a Choux
When the butter, water and flour mixture are cool to the touch add the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated.  If you add the eggs too soon you might end up with scrambled eggs in your batter so be careful! At first you will think you are doing something wrong because the dough separates and curdles a bit, but keep at it!!  Soon it all comes together into this silky and shiny paste. 
Piped & Ready for the Oven
After you have taken a moment to congratulate yourself on how amazing the paste looks (it's pretty great right?!?) fill a pastry bag with your paste (or large ziplock type bag with the corner snipped off) and pipe it onto a parchment lined cookie sheet (circles for cream puffs, rectangles for éclairs or even rings).
Golden Brown & Hallow Inside
Now time for the baking.  I know it will be hard, but restrain yourself from peaking in the oven for at least the first 15 minutes or so.  Opening the oven before the puffs set up can cause them to collapse. The goal is to create a crispy exterior with a tender yet hallow interior.  I like to bake for about 15 minutes then remove them from the oven, cut a small slit in the side (this will help the steam to escape) then return them to the oven for another 3-5 minutes or until they are golden brown, crispy and sound hallow when you lightly tap on them.

When you are ready to fill the puffs you can use the small slit you cut into them earlier to fill them without needing to cut them open any further, which will also help to keep that creamy center from dripping all over your lap! Choux Pastry tastes amazing filled with pastry cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce or used to sandwich your favorite ice cream flavor.

Chef Bruno Albouze cracks me up, but also gives a great tutorial on how to make choux pastry and fancy swans (sorry, youtube videos only show up on computers - follow this link if viewing from your phone

I hope you try to make your own choux pastry and you too go coo coo for choux!!!  If you are not sure that you want to make a huge batch on your first try follow this great recipe by Christina of Desserts for Two, which only makes about 6 or 7 puffs.
Flashback Pic of My Very First Attempt at Cream Puffs
Recipe From Another Great Cookbook: The Illustrated Kitchen Bible
Happy Baking,
Dani xoxo

Monday, October 14, 2013

Cake for Breakfast...Yes Please!

Okay, okay...I know cake is probably not the best choice for the most important meal of the day and I'm also not advocating having cake for breakfast seven days a week, but this cinnamon streusel coffee cake goes great with a hot cup of coffee (it does have coffee in the name after all) and will sweeten up any Sunday bumday.  If you are still feeling guilty add some fresh fruit!!
Ready for the Oven
I forgot to take a picture of my mise en place for you, but I would say the most important thing to remember is to make sure that all of the ingredients are at room temperature and don't rush the creaming process because this will allow everything to blend together and aerate the batter giving the cake a light and fluffy texture.
Baked Up and Smelling Fantastic
Streusel Catching the Morning Sun
The really great thing about this recipe though is that you can play a round with it a bit.  For instance, I added some vanilla because I like the flavor it gives, but you can easily add a number of different flavorings to suit your tastes or even play around with the type of half whole wheat flour and half all-purpose flour for a nuttier taste.  I think that next time I will add some chopped pecans or walnuts to the streusel for a little added crunch.
VERDICT: Maryann Hickey from Just a Pinch has really come up with the perfect breakfast cake recipe and it was just what I was hoping for this lazy Sunday morning.  The recipe says 35-40 minutes, but in my oven it was perfectly cooked at 35 minutes so make sure you keep an eye on it.  It also makes a lot so if you would like it to last a few days make sure to cover it tightly with plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature on the kitchen counter.  If you like it warm with butter, like my husband does, just pop it in the microwave at 10 second intervals with a little butter on top.

Adapted from Just A Pinch
Serves 12 substantial pieces

~  1 c butter, softened
~  2 eggs
~  1 1/2 c sugar
~  1 c milk (maybe try coconut or almond milk)
~  1 tsp of vanilla (or almond?!?)
~  3 c flour (or a mix of whole wheat & all-purpose)
~  4 tsp baking powder
~  2 tsp salt
~  1 c brown sugar (light or dark...whatever you have)
~  4 tsp cinnamon (or try some pumpkin spice)
~  3 tbsp flour
~  3-4 tbsp melted butter
1.     Preheat the oven to 375°
2.    Cream the butter until light and fluffy then add the eggs one at a time.
3.    Add the sugar and continue creaming until smooth.
4.    Add the milk and vanilla and blend together (batter will be very wet).
5.    Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl then slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients until combined, but don't over mix!
6.    Prepare the streusel topping in a separate bowl by combining all ingredients with a fork.
7.    Layer the cake batter and streusel topping in a 9 x 13 pan that has been greased and floured (or sprayed with Pam Baking spray) starting with half of the cake batter and ending with the streusel topping.
8.    Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Please let me know how you like it or if you have changed up the recipe in any way...I have included some variations in the parentheses above for some inspiration.  Enjoy and as always...

Happy Baking,
Dani xoxo

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Smitten With A Tiny Chocolate Cake

Wow, where do I begin, this cake is A-MAZ-ING.  It's the perfect mash up of a chewy brownie and a chocolate torte and the addition of fresh berries and whipped cream really amp up the yum factor. This delicious and super easy recipe was created by obsessive home-cook Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen. If you have never read her food blog you are truly missing out. Her blog has become so popular, in fact, that she has written her own cookbook: The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. I dare you to try and skim through the Amazon preview of this book and not buy it...impossible!  Also, if you remember from my post Successful Pinspirations (Part 1) I made her Hostess Cake, which was shockingly good.

This week at work we celebrated my boss' birthday and since I work in a small office of four people I thought it would be nice to surprise them with a homemade treat. I started flipping through my Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and came upon this Tiny, but Intense Chocolate Cake.  Deb writes a great little intro before each recipe, either commenting on why she loves the recipe or how it came to be. This recipe in particular is her "go-to" cake for those last minute celebrations or the perfect "cheer up" cake for a friend who has had a bad day. The ingredients are minimal and you can even change up the chocolate to reduce the intensity.

A Simple Mise En Place
Since I wasn't sure how intense my co-workers like their chocolate I decided to use half semi-sweet chocolate and half milk chocolate and since I didn't have a 6 inch cake pan I used my smallest CorningWare dish and adjusted the cooking time.  I also found myself with a big ol' bag of dark brown sugar, but no light brown sugar as specified in the ingredients.  The difference between light and dark is the amount of molasses mixed with the sugar.  So here's a great tip...use half dark brown sugar and half granulated (regular) sugar and there you go...light brown sugar!
Browned Butter to Melt Rich Chocolate
Browned butter...something I am loving lately.  It really gives recipes a depth of flavor that you won't get just melting the butter and it's so simple.  You just need to cook your butter over medium heat until it has turned a golden color and gives off a nutty flavor with brown specks at the bottom of the pan.  Be careful not to burn it, because you will have to start all over again!

Creamed Sugar and Eggs with Chocolate
Gentle Folding of Egg Whites with Chocolate Batter
Be gentle when you are folding in your egg whites and make sure you don't incorporate them all at once.  It's very important to fold in about 1/3rd of the whites first then fold in the rest.  This will help to keep the cake from becoming a baked chocolate block.

Chocolate Perfection with Strawberries and Whipped Cream
VERDICT: A perfect little cake that I am sure would be welcomed by any friend or hostess.  Not to mention that since there is no flour it's a great cake for those trying to eliminate or reduce their gluten intake.

Enjoy and Happy Baking,
Dani xoxo

Tiny, but Intense 
Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Deb Perelman's
Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

    • 6 tablespoons butter
    • 4 ounces semi sweet chocolate
    • three large eggs separated
    • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
    • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
    • pinch cinnamon

  • Instructions
    1. Preheat oven to 350.line a 6 inch round springform pan with a circle of parchment paper. Generously butter sides of pan and parchment round.
    2. in a small saucepan melt your butter over medium heat, stirring for even cooking. After the butter melts, it will then hiss and spatter a bit, fragrant brown bits will form at the bottom of the sauce pan. The whole process will take three minutes. Quickly remove from heat and stir in chocolate until melted and smooth. Cool chocolate mixture to lukewarm, a process that maybe sped up by transferring the mixture from the hot sauce pan to a small bowl set in a puddle of cold water. keep stirring if you are using this method
    3. With electric mixer beat eggs yolks, brown sugar and vanilla together until mixture thickens and takes on a pale yellow brown color. Slowly beat in lukewarm chocolate mixture, and a pretty good color will return the mixture will become very thick.
    4. In a separate bowl beat egg whites with clean beaters until firm peaks form. Add a pinch of cinnamon, if desired. Stir one third of eight mixture into chocolate mixture. Fold remaining two thirds in gently, trying to keep better as light as possible. Pour into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven 20 to 25 minutes, or until it is puffed with a lovely dome on top. test with skewer.
    5. To serve let cool 10 minutes. Run tonight around cake to make sure it's not stuck. Release the spring form sides. Let cool. once cooled flip onto plate remove parchment.
    6. additional: beat 1/2 cup whipping cream with 2 teaspoons granulated sugar until soft peaks form dust cake with confectioners' sugar dollop with whip cream and berries.