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.