Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sugar High Friday: Petit Fours

This month's theme for Sugar High Friday, Petit Fours, perfectly dovetailed with a cake project I was already working on. Serendipity!

I used the leftover ends of a chocolate cake to make my petit fours. The cake was torted into four layers, and filled with whipped cream and raspberries.

I know it's hard to tell the scale, but the petit fours were approximately 1 inch high and not quite 2 inches long. Perfect for two big bites.

Some of the pieces were wrapped in plastic chocolate--either white chocolate dyed different colors, or dark chocolate--and some were covered in poured chocolate ganache. The decorations are mostly chocolate plastic cutouts, with a few melted chocolate and buttercream additions.

It was almost a shame to eat them. ALMOST.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

International Bread Day

To commemorate International Bread Day, I was hoping to make sourdough, or foccacia, or some other type of yummy yeasted dough. But the weekend was busy, and there wasn't much time after work to get dough going. So instead, I made a quick bread: Jalapeno-Corn Muffins. They were perfect with black bean chili on a cloudy October evening.


Saturday, October 14, 2006

Pie pals

Q. What happens when you combine fatigue, boredom and lots of excess pie dough?
A. Pie pals! Coming soon to a bakery near you.

I find this little fella's smile particularly charming.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Helloooo beautiful

Napoleon with coconut pastry cream, finished with mango puree and kiwi.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Where is the love?

Work has me up to my hairnetted ears in apple pies right now. Although that sounds delicious, in actuality it is mostly just tedious. The saddest part is that apple pies, once one of my all-time favorites, have lost their appeal. The sight, the smell...even the thought of a fresh-baked apple pies is enough to trigger my gag reflex. Too many hours spent scooping up filling, too many blisters and aches from crimping crusts. Right now the smell of pies baking is the smell of exhaustion.

All of this is quite unfortunate, because apple pies are one of the staples of fall baking. Crisp, tart apples, heavy with aromatic spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, just a hint of lemon juice, baked in a flaky, golden crust with a crunchy layer of sugar on top...used to be heaven! I only hope I can regain my enthusiasm for pies soon, otherwise it'll be apple tart tatin at Thanksgiving this year!


Sunday, October 01, 2006

Pâte à Choux

Pâte à choux (pronounced paht-ah-shoo) is the base dough for creating éclairs, profiteroles, and any number of their sweet and savory variations. It's a unique dough in that the leavening comes entirely from the eggs in the recipe and the steam created by water being trapped in the dough. Thus, it can rise to great heights, but if done improperly, tends to fall once removed from the oven. Pâte à choux might sound intimidating, but it's actually a simple recipe, and if followed correctly, you can impress everyone with homemade éclairs!

5 eggs
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
7 TBS butter, chopped fine
1 TBS sugar
1 tsp salt
1-1/2 cup AP or bread flour
1 egg+1 yolk for egg wash

1) Beat the egg and yolk together and reserve for the egg wash. Whisk together the remaining eggs, set aside for the batter.
2) Combine water, milk, butter, salt and sugar in saucepan. Bring to a boil until the butter and sugar have melted.
3) Remove pan from heat and add flour all at once. Stir until thoroughly mixed.
4) Return to heat and cook over med-high heat, beating constant and vigorously with a wooden spoon until a thin film forms on the bottom of the saucepan and the batter holds together in a mass in the center of the pan. This will take about 3 minutes.
5) Transfer to a mixing bowl. Beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes. In 4 additions, slowly stream in all but 1/2 of an egg, allowing each addition to be absorbed by the batter before the next. After you add each bit of egg, it will look like the batter has broken. Don't worry! It will come back together.
6) Stir until the batter is smooth, soft and shiny and sticks to your fingers. Add only as much of the beaten egg as necessary to achieve this consistency. Do not overwork the batter.
7) At this point you are ready to pipe or spoon the batter onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Fill a piping bag with the dough, or if you don't have a piping bag, fill a large Ziploc bag with dough and cut off a corner to create an opening to squeeze the dough through. For éclairs, pipe a line of dough about 3" long, holding the bag at a 45* angle. You can use either a large circle or a large star tip. For profiteroles, you can just use the bag opening, or use tip #4, 5, or 6 depending on how large you want your circles.
8) Brush the tops of your dough with the egg wash. Bake at 425* until golden (about 15 minutes) and then turn the heat down to 375* and bake for another 10-15 minutes. If the tops are looking very done, turn the heat even lower and open the door slightly during the last 10 minutes. It is very important that the dough gets cooked completely through, and dries out in the middle. Having damp dough is the number one reason éclairs tend to fall once removed from the oven. A long cooking time ensures that they are fully dried and won't collapse on themselves.

Now for the fun part! Assemble your éclairs by splitting them down the center and piping them with whipped cream, pastry cream, or chocolate cream. The tops can be dipped in chocolate or drizzled with chocolate, caramel, berry puree...whatever you want!

Or how about profiteroles? My favorite is to fill them with freshly made ice cream, but whipped cream also works well. Or how about fresh berries and a mixture of chocolate ganache and whipped cream?
If you're really ambitious, you can assemble your profiteroles into a croquembouche, the traditional wedding cake in France. But we'll leave that step-by-step for another lesson.