Sunday, September 30, 2007

Brioche Sticky Buns

I've always been afraid of yeast, very afraid. Just the thought of cooking with something that is alive and growing in my dough makes me want to just go to the bakery and buy something pre-made. To date, I've made one recipe that included yeast: hot cross buns.

That was until I watched a Julia Child PBS special with Nancy Silverton of La Brea bakery in LA. She made these fantastic looking sticky buns with her brioche dough and I thought "Mmmm, brioche. Mmmmm sticky buns. I can do this!" Julia Child actually said they were the best sticky buns she had ever had IN HER LIFE. Now THERE is a compliment!

So without thinking twice, ("Am I capable of a La Brea recipe?" "Can I make the best sticky buns Julia Child has ever had IN HER LIFE?") I headed into my kitchen where by some miracle I actually had a package of yeast in the bottom of my bread basket. One packet was just enough for the sticky buns.

So I re-watched the special and scribbled down the recipe, trying to catch everything she was doing as she was doing it. (It's really helpful to watch her technique, bread baking can be the devil).

The most difficult part of this recipe is that it takes time, lots of time. It's not a difficult recipe to make, it's just rather time consuming waiting for the yeast to do its thing over and over and over again. (In the recipe below, I have highlighted the time requirements in red.) I wanted these for brunch on a Sunday, so I completed most of the recipe on Saturday. Before bed Saturday night I cut the rolls, placed them in the sugar/butter mixture and put them in the refrigerator overnight. Sunday morning at 8 a.m. I removed them from the refrigerator and let them rise until about 11:30 (more time because they were cold). They were ready to eat by noon. If I had wanted to have them first thing in the morning, I would have set my alarm for 6 a.m. to remove them from the refrigerator, then baked them at about 8:30 or 9:oo.

Let's just say these babies were worth the wait. My husband and I immediately ate two each and I refuse to allow myself to think about the calorie count in those two sticky buns. But after a two day wait, we couldn't put off our indulgence any longer. There are three buns left...who knows how long they will last.

This dough recipe is based on a brioche recipe. You can use it for brioche, sticky buns, cinnamon buns, desserts, etc. Don't be afraid! You'll be so glad you made them! They are probably the best sticky buns I have had IN MY LIFE!

Yeast sponge:
2 1/4 tsp. dried yeast (one packet)
1/3 cup warm milk
1 egg (room temperature)
1 cup all-purpose flour (scoop flour and then level off with a knife)
Place the above ingredients in your mixing bowl (using a stand mixer). Mix it up a little with a spatula.

Cover this yeast mixture with a second cup of flour, which will insulate the sponge so it does not dry out. Let mixture sit.

After 30 or 40 minutes the yeast mixture should rise and crack, which shows you that the yeast is alive. If you get no rise, your yeast is probably not good.

Add to the mixing bowl, on top of the dry flour "insulator":
1/3 cup (rounded) sugar
1 tsp. salt
4 eggs
1 cup flour (reserve another 1/2 cup flour to add if needed)

Turn on the mixer at a slow speed, using the hook attachment. The dough should wrap itself around the hook. Let it mix for 15 minutes, adding the reserved 1/2 cup of flour if the dough looks too wet. When the dough is ready, you should hear a slapping sound on the side of your bowl.

Prepare 1 1/2 sticks of butter:
Your butter should be room temperature, not too soft, not melty (or your brioche will be greasy), cool but plyable.

Mash the butter on your counter top using a rolling pin, to get the butter to the same consistency as your dough.

Incorporate your butter little by little into your dough, and mix until all the butter is incorporated, scraping butter from the side of the bowl with a spatula if needed.

Stop as soon as the butter is incorporated. You should hear that slapping noise again.

The temperature of the dough should be cool so the butter doesn't get oily. Transfer your dough to a lightly oiled bowl and put it in a warm place until it doubles in volume (about 2 hours).

Once the dough has risen, gently turn it clockwise in the bowl to redistribute the yeast. The dough will lose some of its air which is ok, it will rise again.

Place dough in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours (or overnight).

Rolling dough:
You will need:
3 oz. butter at room temperature
1 egg, beaten
flour for surface
Divide chilled dough in half. Put one half back in the refrigerator.

Roll out the dough to 11 x 14 inches. Be sure not to touch the dough too much, and use flour on your surface to keep dough from sticking. Turn dough as needed.

Dot 3 ounces of room temperature butter throughout the surface of the 11 x 14 sheet of dough.

Fold the sheet of dough in thirds (left side over the center, then right side over that). Chill for 30 minutes. Do the same with the second half of your dough that is in the refrigerator.

After 30 minutes, your dough is ready to roll.
Place dough on a lightly floured surface (add more flour as necessary). If butter peaks out add a little extra flour in that spot. Roll again to an 11 x 14 inch sheet.

Using one beaten egg as a wash, brush the egg wash all over the surface of your dough, being sure to get to the ends so the dough will close.

Filling and topping:
2 Tb sugar
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 stick butter room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
20 - 25 whole pecans

Take 2 Tablespoons of sugar mixed with 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon and sprinkle over the egg wash. Add 1/2 cup chopped pecans on top of the sugar mixture.

Starting with the side closest to you, roll up your dough (not too tight). Place dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment and cover with saran wrap. Freeze for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare your pan: spread one stick of softened butter on the bottom of the pan and add 1/2 cup brown sugar over that. (You can also add more chopped pecans to this mixture if you don't want to use whole pecans on the rolls.)

Cut the frozen log into 7 - 8 rolls 1 1/2 inch thick. Place 2-3 whole pecans on the top of the roll, and place it pecan-side down in your pan. Don't let rolls touch, they need space to expand.

Let these rise for another 2 hours or so.

Preheat oven to 350F. Bake rolls for 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Let rolls cool for about 5 minutes, then invert onto your serving dish. Scrape any remaining buttery sauce out of the bottom of your pan.

Serve warm or room temperature.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Clotilde's Double Chocolate Cookies

A good friend of mine recently read my little food blog and made an astute observation: "It's almost all chocolate, and it's almost all dessert." Yes, she caught me. I'm the person who says "I love to cook" but really means "I love to eat dessert, chocolate, chocolate dessert, chocolate cookie and cake batter, chocolate dessert mistakes"...the list goes on. I cook because I love to indulge in the results. So I'm constantly looking for both a) a great recipe and b) a great excuse to try it.

So it will come to no surprise that two of my favorite food blogs of all time are David and They each provide me with two essentials: 1) recipes that are easily followed, include lots of chocolate, and have a French flair (both live in Paris) and 2) a wonderful sense of humor that tends to brighten my day.

It was a few weeks ago when I was checking out David's blog and came across Clotilde's recipe for "Very Chocolate Cookies". Looking at the recipe, I thought, "hmmmm, sounds good, but how good could it be?" I've been disappointed by flat tasting "double chocolate" cookies in the past and didn't want to go down that road again! But I noticed that this recipe didn't call for eggs, and since I didn't have any due to my recent macaron fetish, it was as though these cookies were calling my name.

HOLY GODS OF CHOCOLATE these cookies are fabulous. First of all, they are easy, so easy. Secondly, they pack a major punch. If you love a real rich and deep chocolate flavor, these are the cookies for you. Plus, they aren't too sweet so if you are one of those people who dislike overly sweet desserts, they are perfect.

I did make a couple of changes to the recipe (she uses 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour and 1/2 cup all-purpose, I used 1 cup all-purpose flour; I didn't have cocoa nibs so I didn't use them; and I didn't put a pinch of fleur de sel on top of my cookies because I simply forgot). I got creative and added some crushed up Montelimar nougat, which actually produced a nice result, but next time I will try the cocoa nibs instead.

Here is the original recipe on David's site by Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini. (I looked for it in her archives but couldn't find it.) Enjoy them, and please don't feel bad if you eat them all before dinner...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Chocolate Pots de Creme

The name of this fantasy French dessert says it all: Pot (little pot) de (of) creme (cream)...add some really high quality chocolate and you have the chocolate version of the "pot of cream". This dessert is EASY to make, and it impresses people so much you almost feel guilty by the oohs and ahhs you receive.

Make this dessert with the best quality chocolate
you can find. Don't overcook it (like I did this time), or you will end up with a really hard pot de creme...which isn't really creme anymore. The final result will look wet on top when you take it out of the oven, and that is ok.

Do use ramekins to make the pots de creme, they are really the best baking and serving dishes for the pudding-like dessert. Serve your pots de creme with whipped cream and a "cigarette russe" cookie. I like to add a slice of strawberry for color.

To make six 4 ounce servings:

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped (I use Vahlrona)
2 cups heavy cream
4 large egg yolks (save the whites for some macarons!)
1 1/3cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place chocolate in a heat-proof bowl, with a sieve on top. Pour the cream in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer (be sure it is hot enough to melt chocolate), then remove from the heat.

While the cream is heating, whisk the egg yolks, gradually adding the sugar. Whisk for about one minute, and stop once the yolks are thick and light yellow, forming a ribbon when dropped from the whisk.

Very slowly pour the hot cream into the yolks, stirring with the whisk until blended. Immediately pour this through the sieve over the chocolate. Stir with a wooden spoon until all the chocolate is melted and blended with the custard. Stir in the vanilla extract and skim off any bubbles on the surface.

Arrange the ramekins in a baking pan and fill each with approximately 1/2 cup of custard. Cover the cups with tin foil (I cover each cup individually). Pour hot water in the pan, halfway up the ramekins.

Bake for about 25 minutes or until the tops are just set. The custard will be soft, don't worry it will set after you remove it from the oven. Carefully remove the baking pan from the oven and lift the ramekins from the water. Let them cool at room temperature, and then place them in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

This recipe can be made the day before serving.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Chocolate-Hazelnut Cake

I took it upon myself to volunteer to make a dear friend's 30th birthday cake for tomorrow evening. I love baking, especially baking cakes, but when you are baking THE cake for THE big 3-0, the stress begins to mount.

So I poured over my various cookbooks, asking my husband which cake sounded best, going over fillings and icings and ganaches as though I was preparing for a final exam. Finally, I let the ingredients I had on hand decide what I would make: hazelnuts, chocolate and buttermilk. I found a great recipe for Chocolate-Hazelnut Cake in the 50th Anniversary Bon Appetit cookbook. A book which, by the way, has never failed me. I hope it won't fail me now.

This recipe makes a gorgeous cake: bittersweet chocolate cake filled with milk chocolate and hazelnut cream and topped with a bittersweet chocolate ganache. It's one of those cakes you feel like you can't eat because it is too pretty.

Be sure you have enough time on your hands, because there are quite a few steps involved to get it looking that good. It isn't necessarily a difficult recipe, but it takes time.

Filling: (If you like a lot of icing and filling in the center of the cake, I would double this recipe. What it made just BARELY covered the inside and outside of my cake, and I didn't use as much as I would have liked).

1/2 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
8 ounces good quality (i.e. imported) milk chocolate (Lindt), finely chopped
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
2 teaspoons powdered sugar

1 cup sifted all purpose flour (sifted and then measured)
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 tablespoons hot water
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder or instant coffee powder
1/2 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs

6 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon light corn syrup

12 whole hazelnuts toasted and skinned

FOR FILLING: Bring cream and corn syrup to simmer in heavy small saucepan. Place chocolate in medium bowl. pour hot cream mixture over an dlet stand 1 minute. Whisk until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth. Set aside.

Blend hazelnuts and sugar in processor until paste forms, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. Stir paste into chocolate mixture. Refrigerate filling until cool but still spreadable, about 1 hour.

For cake: Position rack in bottom third of oven an dpreheat to 350 F. Butter 9 inch diameter cake pan with 2 inch high sides. Line bottom with parchmetn round. Dust pan with flour and tap out excess. Sift flour and next 4 ingredients into medium bowl. Stir 1 1/2 tablespoons hot water and espresso powder in small bowl until powder dissolves. Mix in buttermilk. Using electric mixer, beat butter inlarge bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in sugar, then vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in flour mixture alternately with buttermilk mixture in 2 additions each.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 4 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack 5 minutes. Turn cake out onto rack. Peel off parchment. Turn right side up onto another rack and cool.

Using a wooden spoon, beat filling until slightly softened and lightened in color, about 30 seconds (if not soft enough, either let it sit out at room temperature or zap it in the microwave for 10 seconds). Cut cake horizontally in half. Place 1 layer cut side up on platter. SLide waxed paper strips under edges of cake. Spread half of filling over cake. Top with second layer, cut side down. Spread remaining filling over sides and top of cake. Refrigerate 10 minutes.
Prepare glaze: Combine chocolate, butter and corn syrup in top of double boiler set over simmeringn water. Stir until smooth. Remove from over water and cool to lukewarm, stirring occasionally.
Pour glaze in a pool over the center of cake. Using icing spatula, spread over top and sides of cake. Arrange 12 nuts around the top edge of cake. Remove waxed paper.

This cake can be prepared one day ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate. Let stand one hour at room temperature before serving.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Heirloom Tomato Tart

My daughter's lovely preschool teacher Brenda came by for a visit and lunch today, and I needed something yummy to offer. I didn't want to do sandwiches or other finger food, I wanted something light but elegant and not too fussy.

So I headed over to my favorite food Web site:, and I found this great recipe for heirloom tomato tart. It's a perfect way to use up all those end-of-season tomatoes, and the colors and explosive flavors will not fail to impress your guests! Plus, it's as easy as can be to prepare.

I purchased my heirloom tomatoes and a jar of pesto at Trader Joe's. The tomatoes come in small packages, I used 2 packages on this tart. Usually I would make my own pesto, which is really very easy to make, but I wanted something quick.

I made the crust the day before, and I put the tart together just before she arrived, so that the juice from the tomatoes wouldn't make the crust soggy. Speaking of the crust, it is very tender and breaks easily. Be careful when removing it from the pie tin, and reinforce the sides of your tart with a little bit more dough so they don't fall apart when the tart is filled.

This tart makes 6 - 8 servings, perfect with a salad for lunch or as a first course for dinner. The tart is rich with the cheese and pesto, so if you serve a dessert after make it light.


1 1/4 cups all purpost flour

3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening

2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 to 4 tablespoons ice water

For filling:

3/4 lb. fresh mozzarella (not unsalted), very thinly sliced

1/2 cup pesto

2 obl mixed heirloom tomatoes, sliced 3/4 inch thick

Making the pastry: Blend together flour, butter, shortening, parmesan, pepper and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (I used my food processor) until mixture resembles course meal with some pea-sized lumps. Drizzle 2 tablespoons ice water over and gently stir with a fork (or puls in food processor) until incorporated.

Gently squeeze a small handful. If it doesn't hold together without falling apart, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) after each addition until incorporated, continuing to test.

Turn out the dough onto a work surface and divide into 2 portions. With the heel of your hand, smear each portion once in a forward motion to help distribute the butter and shortening. Gather both portions and pat into a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for about one hour.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12 inch round and fit into a 9 inch round tart pan with a removable rim. Roll rolling pin over the top of the pan to trim the dough flush with the rim. Lighly prick tart shell with a fork.

Line shell with foil and fill with pie weights or rice. Bake in the middle of oven for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and weights and bake until golden, about 15 minutes more. Cool in pan on a rack.

Fill the tart shell: Remove the side of the pan and slide the shell onto a platter. Arrange one third of mozzarella in bottom of shell and drizzle one third of pesto over the top. Arrange one third of tomato slices, overlapping, on top of the cheese. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat the same layering twice.

***Tart shell can be made one day in advance and kept at room temperature covered in plastic wrap.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Gingerbread Waffles

This recipe is perfect for the cool fall months, and especially for Christmas brunch. But I served it today, in September? Why? The temperature actually went below 90 today for the first time in a month, and in the spirit of the up-coming fall season I had the urge to break out the old Gingerbread Waffle recipe. These are a huge treat, doubly-so if you add cinnamon whipped cream and fruit salad. Today, I served them with sausage links as well.

My guests were extremely impressed and it is really a simple recipe. My house still smells like a bakery at Christmastime!

This recipe makes enough for two adults and two small children. I tripled the recipe today to serve 5 adults and two small children. I have a few waffles left over.

Makes 8 waffles on a belgian waffle griddle:

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1 large egg

3/4 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup mild molasses

3 tablespoons melted butter

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger

Whisk the sugar and egg in a medium bowl to blend well. Mix in buttermilk, butter and molasses.

Combine the flour, baking powder, spices, baking soda, mustard and salt in another bowl. Add this to the liquid ingredients and whisk to blend together. Stir in crystallized ginger.

Preheat the waffle iron, brush with melted butter or use nonstick spray. Spoon batter onto center of iron (batter will be thick, try to spread it out a little when spooning on).

Cover and cook until golden brown. If making a lot of waffles, keep them warm in a 250 F degree oven until all the waffles are ready to serve.

Serve with whipped cream and maple syrup.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Cinnamon Hazelnut Coffee Cake

Friends are coming over tomorrow for a post-"Race for the Cure" brunch, and in preparation I just finished making the best coffee cake in the world: Cinnamon Hazelnut Coffee Cake (with chocolate chips!). The cake is made with cake flour and sour cream, which make it light and moist. Most of the sweetness is in the streudel, so if you prefer a less sweet cake use a little bit less streudel in your layers.

You can make this cake in a springform pan or in a bundt pan. I prefer the bundt pan which makes a beautiful result.


1 1/4 cups coursely chopped toasted hazelnuts (I use my cuisinart food processor for this)

1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar

4 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

4 1/2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

3 cups cake flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup (or 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

16 ounces of sour cream (one container)

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

glaze: 1 cup powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon of milk

-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the 12 cup Bundt pan. Mix the first 4 ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl. Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer, until well blended. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Mix in vanilla. Mix dry ingredients into the butter mixture, alternately with the sour cream, in 3 additions. Beat until well incorporated and smooth. Add chocolate chips and stir until well incorporated.

-Pour 1/3 of the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with 1/2 of the nut mixture. Spoon another 1/3 of the batter over the nuts, follow with the remaining nut mixture. Spoon the rest of the batter over the nut mixture.

-Bake cake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then turn out onto the rack to cool for at least one hour.

-Whisk powdered sugar and milk in a small bowl until smooth, and drizzle over the coffee cake.

This cake is delicious served warm. But it even tastes better the next day. Just wrap it with plastic wrap and keep it at room temperature.

Cincinnati Restaurant Week 2007

I live in Cincinnati, Ohio. It's a large city, but not exactly on the cutting edge. Mark Twain once said : "When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it's always twenty years behind the times."

For years now, many cities in the country have something called "Restaurant Week" where a group of restaurants offers a wonderful meal at a low price. It's a celebration of great food at great restaurants, and it brings people out. This week, Cincinnati has decided to join the rest of the foodie world. 25 restaurants took the plunge and did their very own version of Restaurant Week, September 4 - 8.

Each restaurant's mission was to provide a delicious three course meal for the low price of $25.07. Why that price? There are 25 restaurants in the group, and it is 2007. Don't ask how much it would have been if there were 40 restaurants in the group...I fear the price next year if their membership continues to grow!

Perusing the list of restaurant options, I happened upon Jean-Robert at Pigall's. Jean-Robert (everyone knows him by his first name), is Cincinnati's uber-chef. He has three amazing restaurants in Cincinnati, but the grand dame of them all is Jean-Robert at Pigall's, which is also a member of the Relais and Chateaux group. It is "the" restaurant in town for the best French food money can buy, and both restaurant and chef frequently appear in national magazines.

So I gathered some girlfriends and we took off to Jean-Robert's, where we had an INCREDIBLE three course meal for the low low price of $25.07, plus $15 for wine pairings (that's right, only $15). The meal was a set menu, so we had little choice, but what we were offered was little bits of nirvana:

Amuse Bouche: Miniature vegetable quiche served with a watercress vichyssoise. The quiche exploded with flavor and the crust was incredibly thin and had the perfect amount of crunch. The soup, served in a beautiful porcelaine tea cup, was so good I wanted to lick the bottom of the cup, but I restrained myself.

First Course: The best chevre salad of my lifetime. I usually shy away from chevre, in spite of living in France and having chevre at almost every meal, I never really acquired a taste for it. But Jean-Robert's chevre was light, it almost tasted whipped, and the taste was just right, not too strong. He paired it with a smearing of apple butter on the plate, and peeled grapes. There was a bed of frisee salad under the chevre.

Main Course: There were two options for the main course, one was duck, which I passed on. The other was salmon served on a bed of rice pilaf and a medley of vegetables (tomatoes, mushrooms, paper thin green beans). There was a fabulous basil sauce poured on the fish, at the table of course, which blended all the flavors of the dish perfectly.

Dessert: The dessert course was actually three mini desserts: a creme brulee on a spoon (I love this idea, it makes you feel like you're only having a taste, and it looks beautiful) which was light, creamy and with the perfect amount of burnt sugar on top. Next was a mini key lime tart with a blueberry perched on top. This was not my favorite, but it was beautiful to look at with the light green and blue colors. And a dollop of raspberry mousse that was near perfection, light, airy, creamy, delicious.

With wine, tax and tip,my total came to $57, which is less than half of what it would have been had we ordered off the menu. We left the restaurant hoping that Restaurant Week was a huge success for the Cincinnati restaurants who participated. And we will be back, it was an incredible bargain!