Thursday, March 31, 2011

Charlies Chocolate Pudding Cake-Chocolate with Francois

I can't believe I almost didn't bake this cake this month.  I really would have missed an outlandish recipe and one of the most delicious and amazing chocolate cakes ever.  I'm so glad that little baker voice cheered me on to try this recipe.  And thank you to Peggy at Pantry Revisited who selected this month's recipe for our Chocolate with Francois baking group.  After coming off the complicated and marathon baking session with the Malted Crispie Tart I wanted something simple and Francois Payard's recipes are usually not so simple. But I read the recipe anyway and discovered how quickly I could make it.

  The most time consuming part is chilling it in the freezer for at least 45 minutes.  The only mistake I made was that I didn't pay attention to my ganache and it wasn't as warm as it should have been when I added the butter to it so  I had a few little bubbles of butter when I poured the ganache over the cake. Shame on me-but that's how we learn.  Head over to Peggy's blog to get the recipe and make this cake. Strangers will pledge their love to you once they taste it; neighbors will not stop knocking at your door for another slice and co-workers will be asking daily when are you going to make that chocolate pudding cake again ?

Head over to Chocolate with Francois and see what everyone else did. And really, bake this cake it's crazy incredible. It's rich and smooth and creamy and decadent.  I used bittersweet chocolate for the cake and the ganache and I'm glad I did-it took that "too sweet" edge off of it and gave it an elegant taste.  It's especially good with a little dollop of whipped cream on the side. Bon Appetit.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Malted Crisp Tart-Baked Sunday Mornings

Have you ever had one of those weeks ? No matter how hard you tried to remain positive, lurking around each corner was something waiting to trip you up ? I've been under the weather for a couple of days now and it feels like I have fallen 2 weeks behind instead of 2 days behind. I feel cloudy, like the weather in Seattle. You know that feeling when you aren't 100 percent and feel like you are 10 steps behind everyone else? I'm starting to shake it and so very grateful for that. Hot tea and chicken noodle soup helps. I made this tart last week, or rather I started it. This is not a recipe you can make overnight. After I made the tart shell, which is a brown sugar dough and so good I'm thinking of how to make a cookie out of it, I re-read the directions and then re-read them again .

I thought okay so I've wasted a perfectly good pastry shell because there was no way I was going to caramelize rice crispies, make malted chocolate ganache,crush malted milk balls, make a malted milk pastry cream and combine that with whipped cream to make a diplomat cream. Whew, I was exhausted-maybe putting this marathon tart together weakened my immune system ! But I'm not a quitter and I knew I could do this.

So I made the shell on Wednesday, the pastry cream on Thursday, and then assembled it with the ganache on Friday. You really need to be prepared for all the steps in this recipe but the rewards are well worth it. It has a wonderful caramel crust from the brown sugar, the sweet milk chocolate ganache layered with the crushed malted milk balls and the caramelized rice crispies give it a slight sweet/salty taste. The diplomat cream is something I could eat by the spoonful.

I made my crust a little too thick but it's so tasty I really don't mind the thickness. This is something you eat in small tiny slices, unless you happen to love a sugar overload. Will I make it again ? Only if J asks for it-it's too complicated to be on my bake again list but I encourage you to at least try it once-it's perfect with a hot espresso to offset the sweetness. Bon Appetit.

See how everyone else did over at the Baked Sunday Mornings website. Buy the book Baked Explorations and join us !

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies and Change

J and I went out to breakfast last Friday  morning. For as long as we have lived in Seattle we haven't ever made the trek to Cafe Besalu and after eating there this morning I can't believe we have missed this place. I have read people's ravings over their croissants and everything else that Chef James Miller bakes. He was nominated in 2008 and 2010 by the James Beard Foundation for Best Pastry Chef. After tasting his pastries this morning he should have won both times. I don't have enough adjectives to describe the lightness, the butteryness, the crunch and the absolutely incredible flavor of his pastries. It's probably a good thing that I don't live in Ballard or else I would be eating croissants and pain au chocolate all day every day from Cafe Besalu.

Hazelnut Twist from Cafe Besalu
I've been working on my croissant and pain au chocolate recipes and techniques for some time now and if I can create a pastry half as good as Chef Miller's I will count myself successful. Are you wondering why I've been working on my techniques ? No ? Yes ? Well remember back on Valentine's Day I posted this horoscope:
Creative projects that you may have been working on for a while could prove especially ego boosting, Cancer. You're doing a great job. A change of employment and increase in income may be in the works. If you don't feel passionate about what you're doing, expect the chance to become involved in an enterprise that you do feel strongly about. New ideas and opportunities could change your life.

It's time for that change of employment and time to feel passionate about what I am doing. I have given my notice at the reservation office and sometime mid-May I will be the pastry chef for Taya Parker Pastries in Issaquah , WA.  It's a brand new bakery with a target opening date of May 16th. Do you know how excited I am ? You can't even imagine-I'm still pinching myself. I wake up in the middle of the night with recipes running through my head along with a zillion other things. Jennifer the owner who has hired me is going to be a wonderful boss. The most positive person I have ever met with nothing but success on her mind and a fabulous can do attitude. I'm honored that she has the faith in me to make her business a success. So stay tuned for our menu and opening date.

Needless to say besides croissants and pain Au chocolate I have been testing and working on recipes for all kinds of goodies.  I've been experimenting with my chocolate chip cookie recipe and stumbled across an old post on Smitten Kitchen regarding favorite chocolate chip cookies.  I cannot believe I have not tried this recipe.  They are crisp on the outside, all caramel flavored around the edges and all soft and chewy in the center-the best way for a chocolate chip cookie to be.  I had to send the platter in to J's office or else I would have sat there and finished off every single cookie.

Both of us kept sneaking into the kitchen and taking another cookie off the platter,telling each other that it was the last one but we couldn't stop.  They are addictive and I will never use another recipe for chocolate chip cookies. David Lebovitz you are my hero-thank you for The Great Book of Chocolate and thank you for this delectable cookie.

 Chocolate Chip Cookies
from The Great Book of Chocolate
by David Lebovitz

Makes 20 cookies, or more if you use a small cookie scoop. I doubled the recipe and got about 3 -4 doz medium size cookies.

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 grams) firmly packed light brown sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) (115 grams) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch (1cm) pieces
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups (175 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt or 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt (Deb option)
1 1/2 cups (200 grams) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup (130 grams) walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped

***Refrigerate the completed dough for 24-48hrs before baking. It allows the flavors to develop and results in an even more delicious cookie. I lined a cake pan with parchment paper, scooped and leveled out the dough into the pan and covered everything tightly with plastic wrap.  It was easy to dip and scoop from the pan when I was ready to bake the cookies.

Adjust the oven rack to the top third of the oven and preheat to 300F (150C). Line three baking sheets with parchment paper.
Beat the sugars and butters together until smooth. Mix in the egg, vanilla, and baking soda.
Stir together the flour and salt, then mix them into the batter. Mix in the chocolate chips and nuts.
Scoop the cookie dough into 2-tablespoon (5cm) balls and place 8 balls, spaced 4 inches (10cm) apart, on each of the baking sheets.
Bake for 18 minutes, or until pale golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 days-trust me they won't last 3 days.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Strawberry & Cream Muffins

Spring is this Sunday, March 20th and I am anxious to say good bye to Winter.  It's been cold, grey and wet in Seattle-yes I know, what else is new when you live in Seattle ?  I think just being able to say it's Spring takes some of the chill out of the air.  A chilly Spring day evokes thoughts of  bright yellow daffodils and  purple crocus in bloom with deep blue skies and huge puffy clouds. A chilly Winter day evokes thoughts  of dark skies and winds blowing and the ground brown and frozen .  So this Saturday, it's Winter and this Sunday, it's Spring. It's truly amazing the difference a day can make in our minds isn't it ?

I love Spring in Seattle-there are flowers everywhere. There's the the pale pink blossoms on the Japanese Plum trees,  the bright pink tulips, and the yellow and cream daffodils.  And don't forget the cherry pinks and lavender of the rhododendrons.  Walking around Seattle in the Springtime is like getting surprise presents. Every corner you turn has something else in bloom that surprises you and takes your breath away. 

I've been in a Spring state of mind and watching for the first rhubarb of the season and got distracted by the wonderful odor of strawberries at my local market.  Don't you just love that smell ?  I close my eyes and can taste that juicy sweet berry, then I start thinking of whipped cream and shortcake and before I know it I'm buying 2 pounds of gorgeous strawberries.  I love to eat them plain in all their beautiful sweetness. But these begged for something.  Then I remembered seeing some delicious strawberry muffins months ago on someone's blog.  When I Googled I found it-Jane's Sweets And Baking Journal.  She does such a beautiful blog and her photos are stunning. I used her recipe with just a few minor tweaks.  These combine the best of all worlds- a moist morning muffin with the hint of a cheesecake center .  One bite and you think you are eating strawberry shortcake.  I think these would be wonderful with any fruit but they are especially luscious with fresh juicy strawberries. 

What a perfect way to welcome Spring.

Strawberries & Cream Muffins
Adapted from Janes Sweets and Baking Journal ( make sure you visit her blog)
Makes about 12 to 14 regular size muffins, or about 6 jumbo muffins.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. almond extract
2 large eggs
2 cups All purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup fresh ripe strawberries chopped into very small pieces

Cream Cheese Filling
4 oz. cream cheese, very soft (don't use the fat free or light version)
1 and 1/2 Tbsp. of egg liquid (so beat one egg lightly and measaure off the 1 1/2 Tbsp)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Put paper liners in the cups of your muffin pan, or use nonstick baking spray
Cut up your berries into small pieces and set them aside.

In a small bowl, use a spoon to mix together the cream cheese, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 and 1/2 Tbsp. beaten egg, and 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract. Mix until almost all the lumps are gone. Set this aside (don't refrigerate it-you want the consistency of cheesecake batter).

Melt the butter slowly in a sauce pan on low heat. Add the vanilla extract, almond extract, and the milk into the butter, stirring to combine. Cool until the mixture is just warm, then whisk in the eggs.

In a large mixing bowl add the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt and mix it altogether with a whisk.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour all of the butter and milk mixture into the dry ingredients, blending gently just until combined. Don't overmix.

Using a portion scoop, fill each muffin cup 1/3 full.

Scatter  4-6 pieces, of strawberry on top of each one, gently and barely pressing the strawberries into the batter.

Using a  teaspoon, dab a generous teaspoonful or so of the cream cheese mixture on top of the berries.

On top of that, add on another tablespoon or two so of the muffin batter until the cream cheese portion is covered.

On top of that, add a few more pieces of strawberry. Push them in just slightly-you want them visible after baking.

Sprinkle the tops of the unbaked muffins very generously with coarse sugar.

Bake the muffins for about 15 to 18 minutes, until they're light golden on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean. The middle of the cupcake should be kind of firm when lightly pressed with a finger. Check on the muffins early, and if they're browning too fast, lightly cover the pan with a sheet of foil.

Let the muffins cool in the pan, on a rack, for a couple of minutes, then carefully remove them from the pan to cool on the rack.

(The original recipe was created by Jane of Jane's Sweets)

These are still delicious the next day-pop them in the microwave for 15-20 seconds to refresh them and mmm yummy and warm.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Salt-N-Pepper Cookies for Comfort - Baked Sunday Mornings

It seems silly to bake cookies after the tragedy in Japan.  Saying life goes on just doesn't seem appropriate.  How much can a person bear ?  An earthquake, a tsunami, radiation leaks, flooding, mud slides and fires.  I think of the people who lost family and friends and my heart is heavy for them and I keep them my prayers. 
When I kissed J goodbye this morning I said to him, don't come looking for me if we have an earthquake-get home and we will find each other there.  That thought stayed with me all day.  You are supposed to have a plan-that's what everyone tells us, but I don't think that anyone really imagines that they will have to implement the plan.  As I touched J's face I burned the image of him into my heart , knowing that he would come looking for me no matter what I said, no matter the plan.

I am grateful for my life, for J, for my family and friends,  and for the simplicity of life.  For being able to bake cookies. It's comforting to watch the rain tonight-it's familiar  rhythm reminds me that everything is in it's place in Seattle . And yet that comfort  has a heaviness and a sadness for those who have lost so much and endured so much. My thoughts and prayers  are with the people of Japan and their friends and families.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sugar Crusted Popovers and Spontaneity

I'm back in that longing for Paris mode and it doesn't help that Trip Advisor keeps sending me updates on a $607 round trip fare to Paris leaving tomorrow.  So if I disappear tomorrow check the airport and flights to Paris.  Have you ever done anything spur of the moment like that.  Just hop a plane and take off.  I think we all have that  desire harbored somewhere in our souls.  I envy the people who act on it. And while I'm typing this I'm thinking why am I not one of those people ?  Oh yes there is J, who I love dearly and would never leave behind-but he also harbors that travel wanderlust.  What has made us so responsible that we sometimes lose site of spontaneity ?

Oh, a paycheck-that would be it-that magic paper that pays the mortgage and feeds us.  Our employers don't get the spontaneity thing and if you work for one who does send me a job application please ! Resolve-since I can't hop a plane at the drop of a hat I will do something spontaneous at least once a month -does it still make it spontaneous if I plan to do it once a month?  Oh I'm so confused. I guess you really can't plan spontaneity but you can instill in yourself that willingness to let go of "the rules of life" every once in a while and that is my goal.  I'll let you know how I do.

In the mean time, being in that Paris state of mind I headed over to one of my favorite web sites David Leibovitz. I can always count on him to feed my Paris Jones.  I found the photos and recipe for his popovers and I'm still swooning. So without further ado I give you:

Sugar-Crusted Popovers

Makes 9
Adapted from David Leibovitz's recipe in The New York Times and
Maida Heatter’s Great Book of Desserts

For the puffs:
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup (140 g) flour

For the sugar coating:
2/3 cup (130 g) sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (60 g) melted butter

Softened butter, for greasing the pan

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). Liberally grease a nonstick popover pan, or a muffin pan with 1/2-cup indentations, with softened butter.

2. For the puffs, put the 2 tablespoons melted butter, eggs, milk, salt and sugar in a blender and blend for a few seconds.

3. Add the flour and whiz for about 10 seconds, just until smooth.

4. Divide the batter among the 9 greased molds, filling each 1/2 to 2/3rds full.

5. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the puffs are deep brown.

6. Remove from the oven, wait a few minutes until cool enough to handle, then remove the popovers from the pans and set them on a cooling rack. If they’re stubborn, you may need a small knife or spatula to help pry them out.

7. Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Thoroughly brush each popover all over with the 1/4 cup (60 g) of melted butter, then dredge each puff generously in the sugar and cinnamon mixture to coat them completely. Let cool on the wire rack.

Best eaten the day they are made but can be stored for a day in an airtight tin.

PS. Don't say I didn't warn you - these are totally and completely addictive and so very easy to make !

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Red Wine Cupcakes with Port Buttercream -Fun at the WA Coast

I just got back from the Chocolate on the Beach Festival at Pacific Beach, WA.  My sister, girlfriend and I decided to take a girl's getaway and this was the perfect venue.  Good friends, chocolate,wine and the beach-doesn't get much better.  The weather cooperated on the drive from Seattle, blue skies, dry roads, and snow covered scenery to enjoy.

Once we arrived at Seabrook ( a great little seaside community), our house wasn't ready so we enjoyed a few hours walking on the beach and drinking some local brew at the Mill 109 Pub in Seabrook.

It was a great week-end of fun and letting our hair down. One of those what happens in Moclips stays in Moclips kind of week ends !  A highlight of the festival was the Wine and Chocolate Pairing on Saturday at the 4th Annual, Chocolate & Wine  Festival at the Ocean Crest Resort. They paired wine with a variety of chocolate foods.  We tried the pulled pork in a chocolate bbq sauce-yummy; the sugared bacon chocolate truffles-killer; but out hands down favorite was the Red Wine Cupcake with Wine Buttercream created by the resort chef, Andy Bickar.  I thought I had died and gone to heaven-it was so light and so many flavors, the chocolate the port, the buttercream -we talked about it all night.

All I could do the rest of the weekend was think about that cupcake and how to recreate it.  This is the recipe I came up with-it's still missing something with a little sour/tart taste in the butter cream-I thought the cream fraiche would do it,maybe next time I'll try a little mascarpone instead.  It came out delicious and pretty close to what we tasted. Let me know what you think.

Port Wine Cupcakes
makes 24 cupcakes

1/2 Cup unsweetened cocoa powder
5 ounces good quality dark chocolate chips
1/2 Cup boiling water
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 Cups sugar
4 large eggs-room temperature
1 1/4 Cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 C red wine ( I used a good quality Port)

In a heatproof bowl combine cocoa powder and chopped chocolate and pour in the boiling water. Use a whisk and stir the chocolate until it’s all melted. You may need to pop it into the microwave for little 20 second bursts if it starts to freeze up-just be careful not to overheat it. Set this aside while you cream the butter and sugar.

In your mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Then beat in each egg one at a time until  combined with the creamed butter mixture.
In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt and whisk until combined.
Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter and egg mixture making sure it’s all combined- I kept my mixer on medium.

Using medium speed on your mixer add 1/3  of the chocolate to the batter mixture, then 1/3 of the  the wine, alternating until all of it is blended

Using an ice cream/cookie scoop fill your cupcake papers  almost all the way to the top.
Bake at 350 degrees F for about 20 minutes and let cool completely before icing.  This buttercream is very delicate and if there is any heat in that cupcake it will melt immediately.

Port Wine Buttercream

6 egg yolks (1/2 cup)
3 tablespoons port
1 1/3 cup sugar
1 pound unsalted  butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons creme fraiche

1 cup Port (separate from the 3 tablespoons)

Place the yolks, 3 tablespoons wine and sugar in a heatproof bowl ( I used my Kitchenaid mixer bowl).  Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water, and using your  mixer’s whip attachment, beat the yolks until they are foamy and quite hot-they will feel hot when you dip your finger in them. If you used your mixer bowl then move the bowl onto the mixer (or away from the heat), and beat until they have come to room temperature and formed a dense foam.(If you used a different bowl then gently pour/scrape the eggs into your mixer bowl).  Beat in the butter a small (grape-sized ) piece at a time. Add the 2 tablespoons creme fraiche until incorporated. Once you have added all of the butter and creme fraiche, carefully and slowly stream in the cup of Port wine (or whatever you are using),being careful not to over beat your buttercream.  (If your buttercream emulsion breaks and looks curdled take a small amount 20-25% of it and warm it over a pot of simmering water, when it melts add it back to the original buttercream and whip it back to a good consistency) When it reaches piping consistency you are ready to pipe. After piping these can sit out at room temperature for a couple of hours-if you refrigerate them , let them come back to room temperature before serving-the frosting hardens in the refrigerator but comes back to it's lovely light as air self if it has time to warm up.

PS. We loved the cupcake so much from the festival that we researched the Chef and when we saw his menu at the Ocean Crest Resort we immediately made reservations for dinner.  If you live in Seattle, or Portland and anywhere within driving distance of this resort-make the trip-this is the best meal any of us ever experienced.  We were stunned that in this little out of the way town along the Washington Coast we found food that rivals fine dining in any large city.  We asked to be put on the mailing list because we wanted to know when Chef Andy Bickar gets stolen away-it's just a matter of time-we want to know where he goes next.  We shared Fried Razor Clams in a traditional panko crust with  smoked lemon aïoli. Then a bowl of Grandma's Clam Chowder which we discovered when we saw this quote on the resort's website:

“The Ocean Crest Resort in Moclips has a great restaurant. Whenever I go there, I have to have the spinach salad and Grandma’s Famous Clam Chowder.” – Olympic Gold Medalist Apolo Ohno, Chicago Tribune 02/07/10

My sister had the spinach salad with baby spinach, wild mushrooms, red onion, strawberries, Gorgonzola, and a warm brandied pancetta vinaigrette. She also had the Sea scallops with a spinach gorgonzola cream, and chives. Julie had the Dungeness Cappelletti which was a house-made pasta, dungeness crab , three cheeses, herbs, pine nuts, sage brown butter, tomato, and basil pesto.  I went for the gusto and had the  Roosevelt Elk Tenderloin with caramelized onion-wild mushroom compote, truffled potatoes, and a  red wine reduction.  We finished this incredible meal with by sharing a huckleberry creme brulee. A perfect ending to a wonderful day.  I cannot say enough wonderful things about what Chef Bickar does with the menu and food at this restaurant-I'll say it again , get yourself over to the coast and stop here, you won't regret it. I won't even begin to describe the wine list-check out their website.

The Weldin House where we stayed in Seabrook

The sunset from our balcony