Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Daring Baker's Challenge for November: Caramel Cake

Caramel is good. Who doesn't like it? Especially salted or with good chocolate, you can't beat a good hunk of caramel. But caramel in a cake...and in its frosting...well, too much of a good thing suddenly becomes not so good anymore. That's how I feel about the Daring Bakers Challenge for November: caramel cake. A bite of this cake was good, a few bites made me wonder about when my next dental appointment was, and a piece of it made me feel pretty uneasy for the next 24 hours. Yes, I should have stopped. But I soooo wanted to like it and so I kept forcing it down.

It has to be hard to choose a recipe for the Daring Bakers group. This month this daunting task went to: Dolores, Alex, and Jenny. A huge thank you to them for doing what so many of us have never had to do. Here you have a group of well over 1,000 people around the world, all with varying abilities and tastes, and as with everything in life you simply can't please everyone. I give kudos to all those who do all the research necessary to choose a recipe for the Daring Baker's group.

Usually I'm rather challenged and pretty excited about the monthly challenges. But this cake just didn't do it for me, and I'm sure that this is just a personal opinion. The cake prep itself was very straight-forward, as was the icing. The real challenge in this cake was in making the caramel, so that's good that bakers who had never made their own caramel got a chance to do so. The cake just turned out so very sweet, even with the addition of a huge amount of fleur de sel in the icing, it was still almost inedibly sweet. I brought it to dinner for a friend's birthday, and suffice it to say that this dessert-loving group ate very little of their servings and then declined taking home the leftovers. This was not a good sign! I think the cake would have been better either unfrosted, or with a cream cheese frosting. Something to cut the sweet factor waaaay down.

So, making this cake was a good experience in caramel, but I don't think I would make it again. My always reliable taste-testers were unimpressed, and there are simply too many other great cakes out there and too little time!

The recipe can be found on the Web site of Shuna Fish Lydon, who created it.

Chocolate Espresso Macarons

More and more, I am being associated with the macarons I bring to various parties and events. After 1 1/2 years of making them, I think I finally have the right recipe and "touch"...it takes a lot of practice to get that touch. But really, once you have it you have it, and you suddenly become a macaron superstar in your circle of friends and family.

So for a recent event I brought along a few batches of macarons: chocolate, salted butter caramel, and espresso. The other two recipes are already on the blog, the espresso ones are new so I will post about them here.

These suckers pack a punch of espresso, they taste great with coffee or hot chocolate and require nothing more than a bit of espresso powder.

For Macarons:
1 1/4 cups confectioner's sugar
1 cup almond flour
3 egg whites at room temperature
3 Tb. granulated sugar
pinch of cream of tartar
caramel coloring

Blend the confectioner's sugar and the almond flour in a food processor. Begin to whip the egg whites in a stand mixer until they start to froth. Add a pinch of cream of tartar, and as they foam up more gradually add the granulated sugar. Beat until stiff.

Add the almond mixture to the egg white mixture and fold until the mixture begins to flow "like magma". I would say this will take about 40 - 60 turns of the spatula.

Fill pastry bag fitted with 1/4 " tip and make 1 inch mounds on cookie sheets lined with either parchment or a silpat. Let sit for at least 20 minutes. Sift a bit of espresso powder (not too much) on each macaron before baking. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 12 minutes.

Chocolate/Espresso Filling
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 teaspoons corn syrup
1/2 cup cream
1 Tb. butter
1 tsp. espresso powder

Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a small to medium bowl. Heat the cream, espresso powder and corn syrup until hot and bubbles form on the outside edge of the cream. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let sit for 1 minute. Add the butter and stir until it comes together. Refrigerate until ganache is at a spreadable consistency.

Spread ganache over the flat side of one macaron cookie. Top with another macaron.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Best Pumpkin Pie You'll Ever Eat

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a huge fan of pumpkin pie. It's always rather gloppy and heavy, you could ball it up and throw it at the person sitting opposite you if you really wanted to. That's not appealing to me in my pie, or my dinner guest. So while perusing my Thanksgiving edition of Bon Appetit magazine, I saw an entire section devoted to the almighty pumpkin. Intrigued by some pretty good looking recipes, I decided to take on their "Pumpkin Butterscotch Pie" and go one further: I used a REAL pumpkin. No can 'o pumpkin puree for moi, I got the real thing. I had never done this in my life, and didn't know if it would make a difference.

OH MY GOD. The difference was astounding. The real pumpkin made the pie really light and smooth, almost like a light custard, rather than heavy like canned pumpkin tends to be. I've vowed that from now on, this will be my pumpkin pie recipe, and real pumpkin will be my partner in crime.

I'm cooking for zee French for Thanksgiving this year (well, not all zee French, only 3), and I'm pretty sure they've never thought to make a pumpkin into a pie. This pie will surely amaze.

(To get pumpkin puree, slice pie pumpkin (not Halloween carving pumpkin) in half, remove seeds and strings, turn upside down in about 1/2 inch of water in a pan, and bake at 350 until the pumpkin is soft, about 45 minutes. Remove the flesh from the pumpkin shell, puree in a food processor until smooth. Let cool before you use it for the pie.)

Pumpkin Butterscotch Pie

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp salt
10 tsp chilled, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubews
3 Tb. ice water

3/4 cup packed golden brown sugar, divided
2 Tb. unsalted butter
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup Scotch (I didn't use this)
1 1/4 cups whipping cream
1 cup canned pumpkin (or puree of one small pie pumpkin)
3 large eggs
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice

Mix flour, sugar and salt in processor. Add butter. Using on/off turns, process until very course meal forms. Add 3 Tb.ice water. Using on/off turns, process until moist clumps form, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if too dry. Gather dough into ball and flatten into disk. Wrap and chill for one hour.

Roll out dough to 12 - 13 inch round. Transfer to 9 inch diameter glass pie dish. Fold edges under and crimp as you wish. Chill dough until firm, about one hour.
(I used a tart pan with high sides, and i froze the dough for one hour, it eliminates bubbles while baking).

* Crust can be made one day ahead, cover unbaked crust and keep chilled.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line crust with sheet of foil. Fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake 20 minutes. Remove foil with beans. Bake until just beginning to turn golden brown, piercing with fork if bubbles form, about 15 minutes longer. Cool completely.

Combine 1/2 cup brown sugar, butter and salt in medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil until deep brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add Scotch, then cream (mixture will bubble a lot) and whisk until smooth. Return to medium hea t and stir until most caramel bits dissolve. Strain butterscotch mixture into small bowl. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Whisk remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar and pumpkin in large bowl. Whisk in eggs, then spices. Add reserved butterscotch mixture, whisk to blend.

*Can be made one day ahead, cover and chill, rewhisk before using.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour filling into crust. Bake until just set, about 50 minutes. Cool to room temperature, about 3 hours.

*Can be made 8 hours ahead, store at room temperature.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Chocolate-Glazed Chocolate Tart with Fleur de Sel

If you are looking for an incredible easy dessert recipe for a chocoholic in your life, this is BY FAR the one. I jokingly refer to it as "chocolat/chocolat/chocolat" because it's basically three layers of chocolate: a chocolate cookie crust, a very smooth and truffle-like dark chocolate interior, and it is finished off with a gorgeous, shiny chocolate glaze.

The entire tart takes very little time or effort to make, and once served it disappears in no time. I've had friends beg me for the recipe, they like it so much. I found the recipe in the Paris edition of Gourmet Magazine (September, 2008...by the way, this edition is full of fabulous recipes). I have made the tart quite a few times, and after some experimentation I found that a sprinkling of fleur de sel on the finished tart makes the chocolate taste even better...it's that sweet and salty thing everyone loves. Plus, the fleur de sel looks so pretty on the shiny glaze.

9 chocolate graham crackers or chocolate cookies, finely ground (to make one cup)
5 Tb. unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar

1 1/4 cups heavy cream
9 oz. bittersweet chocolate (not more than 65% cacao), chopped
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt

2 Tb. heavy cream
1 3/4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tsp light corn syrup
1 Tb. warm water

For Crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Stir together all ingredients an dpress evenly onto the bottom and up the sides of a tart pan with a removable bottom. Bake until firm, about 10 minutes. Cool for 15 - 20 minutes

For Filling:
Bring cream to a boil, then pour it over the chocolate and let stand for 5 minutes. Gently stir until smooth. Whisk together eggs, vanilla and salt in another bowl, then stir into the melted chocolate.
Pour filling into cooled crust. Bake until filling is set about 3 inches from the edge, but center is still wobbly. This will be about 20 - 25 minutes.
Cool completely in pan on rack, about one hour.

For Glaze:
Bring cream to a boil and remove from heat. Stir in chocolate until smooth. Stir in corn syrup, then warm water.
Pour glaze onto tart, then tilt and rotate tart so glaze coats top evenly. Let stand until glaze is set, about one hour.
Sprinkle fleur de sel over top of glaze. (optional)

*Tart is best the day it is made. If you need to make it earlier, make it without the glaze and chill for one day. Bring it to room temperature, then add the glaze.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Daring Baker's Challenge for October: Pizza!

When I discovered that this month's Daring Baker's Challenge was homemade pizza, I was all at once happy, relieved, confident and a bit under-challenged. Happy because who doesn't love pizza? Pizza is a mainstay of my regime....love it, at least once a week. Relieved, confident and under-challenged? Well, that's because I make pizza just about once a week, using this exact recipe! Oh well...at least it's something I love to make and the family loves to eat!

The recipe is excellent. It makes some great pizza dough. Some of the best I've ever had, even in a pizza restaurant. It's easy, too. The trick is, you MUST let the dough rest overnight, and you MUST be sure to use ice water and cold flour. I've made this pizza dough so many times and it hasn't always come out great, usually because I skipped one of those two steps.

I decided to make two pizzas: one with olive oil, cheese (asiago/parmesan/mozzerella blend), figs and prosciutto for me and my husband, one with tomato sauce, cheese and pepperoni for the kids. As usual, they were gobbled up in one sitting!

Here's the recipe, and a big thank you to Rosa of Rosa's Yummy Yums for the challenge and sharing one great recipe with a lot of new pizza makers!

RECIPE SOURCE: “The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering The Art of Extraordinary Bread” by Peter Reinhart. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA. Copyright 2001. ISBN-10: 1-58008-268-8, ISBN-13: 978-158008-268-6.


Original recipe taken from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart.

Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter).

4 1/2 Cups (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) Unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled - FOR GF: 4 ½ cups GF Flour Blend with xanthan gum or 1 cup brown rice flour, 1 cup corn flour, 1 cup oat flour, 1 ½ cup arrowroot, potato or tapioca starch + 2 tsp xanthan or guar gum
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant yeast - FOR GF use 2 tsp
1/4 Cup (2 ounces/60g) Olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it’s better with)
1 3/4 Cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) Water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 Tb sugar - FOR GF use agave syrup
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting


1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.
The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.

NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.


8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C).

NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time.
During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping.
In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again.
You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.

11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter - for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

13. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for abour 5-8 minutes.

NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For an even baking, rotate 180°.

If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pane to a lower shelf before the next round. On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly.

14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

Pierre Hermé's "Financiers"

I've been eyeing the recipe for Financiers in my Pierre Hermé cookbook for a long, long time. This is a treat I've had in France a few times, but not enough to be a real pro at what they should taste like. And usually they are not made of chocolate, but there seems to be nothing wrong with a chocolate financier! So my intrigue was at a high, all I needed was an excuse to bake them. My excuse? My French class was hungry for a treat. Enough said.

Basically, they are a chocolate almond cookie. The name translates more or less to "banker", because the pastry shop where they originated catered to many of the "financiers" in the bourse district of Paris. They are traditionally shaped like a bar of gold, but now you see them baked in boat-shaped molds. I used a baking pan with multiple mold shapes (flowers, hearts, bundts, etc.) and they turned out great.
Because of the almond flour, they are very moist and can be kept at room temperature for a number of days. Easy to make, yummy to eat...my kind of treat!

3 /12 ounces (100 g) bittersweet chocolate
3 lg eggs
1/2 cup plus 1 Tb. sugar
1 cup finely ground almond powder or finely ground blanched almonds
1 stick plus 1 Tb. unsalted butter at room temperature
1/3 cup plus 2 Tb. tepid water
1/3 cup plus 2 Tb. all purpose flour, sifted

Preheat your oven to 350. Butter and flour molds (rectangular, boat shaped, something that holds about 3 Tb. water. Adjust cooking time if you have different sized molds). Place molds on jelly roll pan.

Melt chocolate in bowl over and not touching simmering water. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. It should be just warm to the touch when you use it.

With an electric stand mixer, whisk the eggs, sugar and almond powder together on medium-high speed until it is pale. Reduce speed to medium, add butter in 4 or 5 peaces and beat until just incorporated. On low speed, add chocolate and mix to blend. Add the water, increase speed to medium, and beat until it comes together.
Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour. (This batter can be kept covered airtight in the refrigerator for a couple days).

Spoon batter into molds until they are almost filled, and bake for 15 - 18 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cookie rack and cool for 3 minutes, then remove cookies from the molds. Cool them airtight to room temperature.

Optional: add a sprinkling of cocoa powder or confectioner's sugar

Friday, October 10, 2008

Chocolate Tart with Salted Butter Caramel

I noticed a few years ago that the salted butter caramel rage had hit France with a vengeance. You could find it everywhere: from Pierre Hermé and Ladurée's macarons to Berthillon's ice cream, everyone had this flavor in their repertoire. And they still do, it's extremely popular over there, and will probably remain so since it's soooo delish. It's just catching on in the U.S. (we're always a few years behind France in all things hip and trendy). In fact, I noticed that Starbucks even has a salted butter carmel hot chocolate...which kind of scares me yet intrigues me at the same time....don't know if I should try it or run from it.

So I was invited to a friend's for dinner tonight and was in charge of all things sweet. It's my favorite contribution, of course, and I wanted to do something that would please all ages, since 50% of us were under 5. So I went to my old Bon Appetit magazines and found this yummy looking tart that seemed almost like a candy bar, with its caramel and chocolate combo. I had all the ingredients. Had the time. Had the patience for caramel....so I went for it.

The tart in itself is super easy to make. You only bake one thing: the crust. And the crust is very yummy with the little bits of cocoa nibs (which are probably not necessary if you don't have them or want to invest in them). The hardest part is the caramel, but that's not even hard, you just have to be sure not to burn it. I take it off the stove when it is uniformly amber in color, about 7 - 9 minutes into its boil. The final result of this tart is not unlike a snickers bar without the nuts. It's sweet, but daaarn good. The caramel, if you cook it correctly, will be soft and perfect under the very nicely softened layer of chocolate ganache. The tart is good, damn good. In fact, we scarfed the whole tart down in a matter of minutes, it's pretty addictive. It was requested to go in my "repertoire"...and so it shall. The only thing I would change would be to add just a bit more fleur de sel, the salt did not come out as much as I would have liked.

So, for a pretty easy yet impressive dessert, I highly recommend this one. Plus, it's trendy now, you could be hip like Starbucks!

You can find the recipe at Bon Appetit's web site, Epicurious. com.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tarte Tatin

Tarte Tatin is the fancy French way of saying "Upside Down Apple Pie". This pie has four ingredients: puff pastry, apples, sugar and butter, and it is one of the most common desserts in all of France. You can order this in Paris restaurants or enjoy it in country homes. The best thing about it is it's simple, anyone can make a tarte tatin. I learned how to make this tart from the family I lived with when I was in France as an undergrad, "Madame" used to make these in a matter of minutes, or so it seemed. She had that Frenchy-french way of whipping all sorts of goodies up in no time.

Now that it's the fall, and apples are plentiful and the temperatures are dropping, it seems like a great time to whip up a nice, warm tarte tatin. I made one for my family last weekend, and my children loved it, my husband was reminded of the tarte tatin he had on a trip to Paris, and I was feeling rather guilty for all the butter and sugar involved. But 'tis the season, so they say.... we must eat tart.

4 granny smith apples
3/4 cup sugar (or 1/2 cup if you want less sugar)
3/4 stick unsalted butter
1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted

Use a 9 or 10 inch oven proof saute pan (with sloping sides).
Peel, core and slice apples in quarters.
Melt butter in the pan, then add sugar. Remove pan from heat, and place apples cut side down on top of the butter/sugar mixture. Pack them in tight, and cut small pieces of apple to fill in any gaps.
Replace on heat and let sugar carmelize to a golden amber.
Meanwhile, cut a circle of puff pastry about one inch wider than the pan.
Once apples are carmelized, place the puff pastry on top of the apples and roll the overhand in (it's ok, it will shrink).
Preheat oven to 350. Place pan in oven for 30 - 40 minutes, until puff pastry is golden brown.
To serve, carefully and quickly flip the pie over on a serving platter (holding pan with one hand, platter with the other).
Serve with vanilla ice cream or creme fraiche. Use cinnamon if you like it!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Homemade Cinnamon Bread...yummmm

After what I would call a humongous hiatus from my kitchen due to some of the worst months of my lifetime, I seem to be trying to make up for lost time at record speed. I was in the kitchen most of the last few days, making everything from bread to pie to homemade tomato sauce. And what they say is true, it is so incredibly therapeutic. Not good for the waistline, but therapeutic nonetheless.

Yesterday was a chilly day here in Cincinnati, and with the fall chill always comes my desire for homemade bread. My Peter Reinhart book The Bread Baker's Apprentice gets its greatest workouts in the fall and winter months, when I'm dying for the smell of yeasty bread wafting through my house, and especially for that of cinnamon. Better than the best air freshener, that's for sure. So yesterday I cracked the sucker open once again and decided to try Reinhart's recipe for cinnamon bread. Well, technically his recipe is for Cinnamon Raisin Walnut bread, but I have picky toddlers in my midst, those who thumb their noses at any foreign objects in their otherwise uniformly smooth bread dough. So I forwent the fun stuff and kept it to the basic cinnamon.

This recipe was easy. I mean Eeeeeassssy. Throw ingredients in your Kitchenaid mixer, blend, rise, done. Of course, I have a Kitchen aid mixer, so that helps enormously with the toughest part: kneading. But really, the recipe is neither difficult nor time consuming and the results are, well....my family of four has already eaten 1 1/2 loaves of this stuff, and it has been less than 12 hours since it was baked. There you go, we are gluttons...but only for the good stuff.

Cinnamon Bread (A Variation of Peter Reinhart's Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread):

3 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
4 tsp. granulated sugar
1 1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. instant yeast
1 large egg, slightly beaten
2 Tb. shortening or butter, melted
1/2 cup buttermilk or whole milk, at room temp.
3/4 cup water, at room temp.

for cinnamon swirl:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 Tb. ground cinnamon

For cinnamon topping:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 Tb. ground cinnamon

Stir together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer (or by hand if you don't have an electric mixer). Add the egg, shortening (butter), buttermilk and water. Stir together or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until the ingredients form a ball. Adjust with flour or water as necessary.

Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter, begin to knead. Or, with an electric mixer, use the dough hook. Knead by hand for about 10 minutes, by maching for about 6 - 8 minutes. (If you want to add raisins and nuts add them during the final 2 minutes of the mixing, you may need to add them by hand to evenly distribute them.)

Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat it with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for about 2 hours or until doubled in volume.

Divide dough into 2 equal pieces. Mix your cinnamon and sugar together and set aside. Roll the dough pieces out into two 5 x 8 inch rectangles. Sprinkle 1/2 the cinnamon and sugar mixture on each rectangle. Tightly roll up the dough, from the short side up, pinching tightly after each roll. Place loaves in lightly oiled loaf pans and mist the tops with spray oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap.

Proof for 60 - 90 minutes, or until the dough comes up above the lip of the pan and is about doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350. Place loaf pans on a baking sheet, but be sure they are not touching.

Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the pan 180 degrees and continue to bake for about 20 - 30 more minutes. The finished bread will be golden brown on top and on the sides and will make a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom.

Immediately remove the bread from the pans, brush melted butter on top, and roll them in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. This gives them a wonderfully sweet crunch.
Let cool for about an hour before serving.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Daring Baker's Challenge for September: Lavasch Crackers

Ok, so no, these are not my crackers. But wow, they do look nice! Sowhere's the photo you ask? I took photos, I swear I did!! They are sitting in my husband's camera in his office. I've waited all weekend, and finally decided I'll just have to be a slacker daring baker and just post without the photos. When they come home, I will post them! In the meantime, here's my story:

This month's challenge came from one of my favorite cookbooks: The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. Man, can he ever explain how to do bread. I have made multiple recipes from this book, and he really holds your hand from beginning to end. Thus producing lovely bread!

On the other hand, lavasch crackers were not really my thing. No, I didn't dislike the recipe, (I hate when posters moan and groan about a recipe...they should just get over it and on with it). It's the sweet tooth in me, I just get more excited about a recipe that makes me lose sleep at night and anticipate how it will turn out. This recipe not a showstopper, however it was a very reliable and "baker-friendly" recipe, a good one to have on hand if you ever want to make your own crackers. I guess that's the thing...I kind of find it easier to purchase the crackers and make the dip! Although our hostess, Shel, did give us the added bonus of making our own vegan (read: no animal product) spreads. I made white bean hummous and tapenade.

Here is the recipe for the Lavasch:

The key to a crisp lavash,...is to roll out the dough paper-thin. The sheet can be cut into crackers in advance or snapped into shards after baking. The shards make a nice presentation when arranged in baskets.

Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers

* 1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread flour or gluten free flour blend (If you use a blend without xanthan gum, add 1 tsp xanthan or guar gum to the recipe)
* 1/2 tsp (.13 oz) salt
* 1/2 tsp (.055 oz) instant yeast
* 1 Tb (.75 oz) agave syrup or sugar
* 1 Tb (.5 oz) vegetable oil
* 1/3 to 1/2 cup + 2 Tb (3 to 4 oz) water, at room temperature
* Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings

1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, agave, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. You may not need the full 1/2 cup + 2 Tb of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.

2. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should pass the windowpane test (see http://www.wikihow.com/Determine-if-Bre … ong-Enough for a discription of this) and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.


2. For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), and slightly tacky. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

3. Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).

4. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax. At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment. If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors.


4. For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Lay out two sheets of parchment paper. Divide the cracker dough in half and then sandwich the dough between the two sheets of parchment. Roll out the dough until it is a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. Slowly peel away the top layer of parchment paper. Then set the bottom layer of parchment paper with the cracker dough on it onto a baking sheet.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.) Be careful with spices and salt - a little goes a long way. If you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking. If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.

5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).

6. When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Daring Baker's Challenge for August: Eclairs au chocolat!!

I almost fell off my chair when I found out that this month's DB challenge was CHOCOLATE ECLAIRS. I love all things French, and I especially love all things Pierre Herme! Since I bought his book I have amazed myself at how wonderful his recipes turn out. Needless to say, this challenge wasn't for every-day eclairs, it was for PIERRE HERME eclairs! It's like having a French pastry shop in your kitchen!

One thing you have to understand about eclairs. A French eclair is a delicate pastry filled with wonderful pastry cream. Chocolate ones are filled with chocolate pastry cream, coffee ones are filled with coffee pastry cream. These should not be confused with the Dunkin Donuts huge bavarian cream filled "eclair". No no no, that will not do! I saw so many DB folks filling their eclairs with bavarian cream and just thought NO!!!....you must use the fabulous pastry cream by Pierre Herme!! If you make it, you'll know why...

Anyway, long story short, I made the recipe and had no troubles whatsoever (lots of folks had problems with the "puff" part). I made both chocolate and coffee eclairs. For the coffee ones, I just made a vanilla pastry cream but added 3/4 cup espresso to it, and used a coffee glaze (espresso mixed with confectioners sugar). With my extra egg whites, I made chocolate macarons, just for a 1-2 French whammy.

I served these at my birthday party and people were asking me who did the catering. They were the first thing devoured from the buffet table! That's when you know you have a hit!!!

So a huge thank you to Tony Tahhan and to MeetaK for this fantastic challenge, I think everyone is a lot more comfortable with French pastry now!!

Here's the recipe, fear not its length!!

Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)

• Cream Puff Dough (see below for recipe), fresh and still warm

1) Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Divide the oven into thirds by
positioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with
waxed or parchment paper.

2) Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 (2cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough.
Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 41/2 inches (about 11 cm) chubby fingers.
Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff.
The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.

3) Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the
handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep in ajar. When the éclairs have been in the
oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Continue
baking for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking
time should be approximately 20 minutes.

1) The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.

Assembling the éclairs:

• Chocolate glaze (see below for recipe)
• Chocolate pastry cream (see below for recipe)

1) Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside the
bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper.

2) The glaze should be barely warm to the touch (between 95 – 104 degrees F or 35 – 40
degrees C, as measured on an instant read thermometer). Spread the glaze over the tops of
the éclairs using a metal icing spatula. Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill the
bottoms with the pastry cream.

3) Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the bottoms
with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream
and wriggle gently to settle them.

1) If you have chilled your chocolate glaze, reheat by placing it in a bowl over simmering water,
stirring it gently with a wooden spoon. Do not stir too vigorously as you do not want to create

2) The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.

Pierre Hermé’s Cream Puff Dough
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)

• ½ cup (125g) whole milk
• ½ cup (125g) water
• 1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
• ¼ teaspoon sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
• 5 large eggs, at room temperature

1) In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the

2) Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium
and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very
quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You
need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough
will be very soft and smooth.

3) Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your
handmixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time,
beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough.
You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do
not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you
have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it
should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.

4) The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the éclairs as directed above.

1) Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.

2) You can pipe the dough and the freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking
sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer the
piped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.

Chocolate Pastry Cream
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by PierreHermé

• 2 cups (500g) whole milk
• 4 large egg yolks
• 6 tbsp (75g) sugar
• 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
• 7 oz (200g) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Velrhona Guanaja, melted
• 2½ tbsp (1¼ oz: 40g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1) In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy‐bottomed saucepan.

2) Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a couple spoonfuls of the hot milk into the yolk mixture.Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture.

3) Strain the mixture back into the saucepan to remove any egg that may have scrambled. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously (without stop) until the mixture returns to a boil. Keep whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat).Stir in the melted chocolate and then remove the pan from the heat.

4) Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set it in an ice‐water bath to stop the cooking process. Make sure to continue stirring the mixture at this point so that it remains smooth.

5) Once the cream has reached a temperature of 140 F remove from the ice‐water bath and stir in the butter in three or four installments. Return the cream to the ice‐water bath to continue cooling, stirring occasionally, until it has completely cooled. The cream is now ready to use or store in the fridge.

1) The pastry cream can be made 2‐3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

2) In order to avoid a skin forming on the pastry cream, cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the cream.

3) Tempering the eggs raises the temperature of the eggs slowly so that they do not scramble.

Chocolate Glaze
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 1 cup or 300g)

• 1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream
• 3½ oz (100g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 4 tsp (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
• 7 tbsp (110 g) Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or at room temperature

1)In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.

2) Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.

1) If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly
 in the microwave or over a double boiler. A double boiler is basically a bowl sitting over (not touching) simmering water.

2) It is best to glaze the eclairs after the glaze is made, but if you are pressed for time, you can make the glaze a couple days ahead of time, store it in the fridge and bring it up to the proper temperature (95 to 104 F) when ready to glaze.

Chocolate Sauce
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 1½ cups or 525 g)

• 4½ oz (130 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 cup (250 g) water
• ½ cup (125 g) crème fraîche, or heavy cream
• 1/3 cup (70 g) sugar

1) Place all the ingredients into a heavy‐bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens.

2) It may take 10‐15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon.

1) You can make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for two weeks. Reheat the sauce in a microwave oven or a double boiler before using.

Friday, August 1, 2008

French Fruit Tart with Vanilla Pastry Cream

Go to any patisserie in France and you are sure to see these amazing-looking fruit tarts in the window. They look so complicated, so fancy and so impossible to recreate, but in reality....they are easy as tart. Bwa hahahahaha.

Seeing all the great fruit in the grocery store these days, I decided it was high time I make one of these fruit tarts. So I got the fruits that I usually see most ofen in France: raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and kiwi fruit.

First I made the crust. This is a wonderful shortbread crust, but it is not tough and has a great crumb. It is not overly sweet so it doesn't take over your tart. It's quite the perfect tart dough.

While that was baking, I made the vanilla pastry cream. The trick here is to be sure not to scald your milk, or you will have clumps in your cream. Also be sure to gradually add your eggs so they won't cook in the hot milk. Otherwise, as long as you keep your eye on it and don't overcook, the vanilla pastry cream is really simplet to make and takes no time at all. I refrigerated that overnight, and the following day I put it all together before leaving on a cookout with friends. They ooh-ed, the ahh-ed, they ate and ate and wanted more. It was really a success. So much so that I think I should make this one a summertime staple, and I think it would make great little mini tartlets for a reception, or similar.

Bon appetit!!

For the Tart Dough:

1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. confectioners' sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
9 Tb. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Put all dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the pieces of unsalted butter over the top of the dry ingredients, and pulse until the butter is cut in and the mixture looks like coarse meal. Break up the yolk a bit before you add it to the food processor, and then add it and process in long pulses until the dough comes together, you will hear the noise of the motor change.

Buttter a 9 inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. You want to keep it crumbly here, it doesn't have to be perfect. Freeze crust for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a piece of aluminum foil and fit it (buttered side down) over the crust. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet, bake the crust for 25 minutes, then remove the foil. Continue baking until the crust turns golden brown (don't let it burn!) about 8 - 11 more minutes.

Let cool. You can do this and store it up to 5 days before you need to serve it.

Vanilla Pastry Cream:

2 c. whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. cornstarch
1 1/2 pieces of vanilla bean (or 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract)
3 1/2 Tb unsalted butter, but into pieces and at room temp.

Boil the milk and the vanilla (if using beans, scrape the seeds into the milk and include the pods)in a small saucepan. As this is heating, in a medium saucepan whisk the yolks with the sugar and cornstarch, until thick and well blended. Still whisking, drizzle in about 3/4 cup of the hot milk in order to warm the yolks. Continue whisking as you slowly add the rest of the milk. Put the pan over medium heat and whisk constantly, bringing it to a boil. Keep mixture at a boil, continuing to whisk, for about 1-2 minutes, and remove from heat.

Let sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the butter until they are fully incorporated. The pastry cream will be smooth and silky, not clumpy. Scrape cream into a bowl and let it cool off. You can place a piece of plastic wrap right on the surface of the cream so you don't get a skin. Refrigerate until it is cold and ready to use. You can keep it for up to 3 days.


When you are ready to serve your tart, pour the cooled pastry cream (give it a pass or two with a whisk to incorporate it again) into the tart shell. Add fruits of your choice (I find that berries or fruit that isn't too juicy works the best) over the top. If you want a glaze, use about 1/3 cup of jelly of your choice and one teaspoon of water, boil it, let it cool, and using a pastry brush "paint" your fruit.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Daring Baker's Challenge for July....

I'm so sad to say that I was not able to make the seemingly delicious Hazelnut Torte that the Daring Bakers made this month. My beloved, wonderful, funny, sweet, beautiful, smart and way too young sister Audrey passed away from a hard fought battle with breast cancer on July 13. This has rocked my world more than anyone could ever have told me it would. I will miss her for the rest of my life.
Soon, very soon, I hope to get back in the kitchen.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Pierre Hermé's "Moist and Nutty Brownies"

I'm a Pierre Hermé addict, which you can tell by my continuous references to him on my blog. One visit to his wonderful pastry shop in the 6th arrondissement in Paris is enough to convert even a sugar-phobe...it's like a museum or a fine jewelry store. When I got his cookbook "Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé" for Christmas, I swooned. Perfect perfect....

What I like about his book is that his recipes are so well written, clear, well explained (thanks Dorie Greenspan!) and most of them have great photos. I've made some damn tasty treats from this book! So when I wanted to make some brownies for a picnic, I thought "Must make Pierre's brownies."

Perhaps I cooked them a tad too long, but they weren't as good as I had hoped they would be. They weren't bad, they were gobbled up, but they didn't wow me like so many of his other recipes do. I found them more cake-like than brownie-like, with no chew at all. And they didn't look as moist as those in his photo, so maybe I baked a bit longer than I should have. I think I've had better luck with the Moosewood brownies I've made in the past. But I should probably give Pierre's one more chance.

Here's Pierre's recipe, as found on p. 61 of his book:

5 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter at room temp
4 large eggs, room temp and slightly beaten
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 c. all purpose flour
1 1/4 c. pecans or walnuts, lightly tasted and coursely chopped

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
-Butter a 9 x 12 inch baking pan, fit the bottom with parchment, butter the parchment and dust the inside with flour. Tap out excess flour
-Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave. Leave chocolate to cool slightly, to about 114 cegrees.
-In the meantime, beat the butter until it is smooth and creamy but not airy. Stir in the cooled chocolate, add the eggs, then sugar, then flour and nuts, stirring until each addition is just incorporated.
-Pour batter into pan and smooth the top, bake for 19 - 22 minutes, until the top is dry but the center is still wet. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool for 20 - 30 mn.
-Remove brownies from pan as you would a cake. Remove the parchment paper from the bottom and turn over to cool right-side up. Cut brownies into 18 small pieces.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Daring Bakers Danish Nightmare

I simply did NOT succeed at this month's daring baker's challenge. Oh my...it was not pretty. I mean, I can make all sorts of breakfast pastry-type goodies: sticky buns, cinnamon buns, brioche, you name it. But this danish did me in.

Why? I don't really know. I found the recipe a little bit incomplete as far as the instructions for braiding go, and so I think that was my major downfall. The pastry tasted fine, it just looked horrible. I didn't understand that you had to make the braid actually TOUCH the dough on the other side. So mine opened all up. It was also incredibly hard for me to roll. It just KEPT bouncing back to a small rectangle. Even when I would let it rest, it did no good. I couldn't figure out how to cut it to make two rectangles, I found that a bit fuzzy as well in the instructions. But I did my best to figure it all out!

For my filling, I did two: one with raspberry and almond creme, and one with dark chocolate and pistachio creme. The raspberry one was soooo ugly, I didn't even photograph it. I over-filled it you see. Never over-fill your pastry! The pistachio one is here. It tasted good, but I think my guests were a bit afraid of the look!

The challenge was hosted by Kelly of Sass & Veracity, and Ben of What’s Cookin’? I thank them for the challenge, but I'm not sure I will re-attempt this one!

Here's the recipe!


Makes 2-1/2 pounds dough


For the dough (Detrempe)

1 ounce fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast

1/2 cup whole milk

1/3 cup sugar

Zest of 1 orange, finely grated

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped

2 large eggs, chilled

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

For the butter block (Beurrage)

1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour


Combine yeast and milk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed. Slowly add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice. Mix well. Change to the dough hook and add the salt with the flour, 1 cup at a time, increasing speed to medium as the flour is incorporated.

Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until smooth. You may need to add a little more flour if it is sticky.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Without a standing mixer: Combine yeast and milk in a bowl with a hand mixer on low speed or a whisk. Add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice and mix well. Sift flour and salt on your working surface and make a fountain. Make sure that the “walls” of your fountain are thick and even. Pour the liquid in the middle of the fountain. With your fingertips, mix the liquid and the flour starting from the middle of the fountain, slowly working towards the edges. When the ingredients have been incorporated start kneading the dough with the heel of your hands until it becomes smooth and easy to work with, around 5 to 7 minutes. You might need to add more flour if the dough is sticky.


1. Combine butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and then beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Set aside at room temperature.

2. After the detrempe has chilled 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 18 x 13 inches and ¼ inch thick. The dough may be sticky, so keep dusting it lightly with flour.

Spread the butter evenly over the center and right thirds of the dough. Fold the left edge of the detrempe to the right, covering half of the butter. Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn has now been completed.

Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns, or use a sticky and keep a tally. Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3. Place the dough lengthwise on a floured work surface. The open ends should be to your right and left. Roll the dough into another approximately 13 x 18 inch, ¼-inch-thick rectangle. Again, fold the left third of the rectangle over the center third and the right third over the center third. No additional butter will be added as it is already in the dough. The second turn has now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

4. Roll out, turn, and refrigerate the dough two more times, for a total of four single turns. Make sure you are keeping track of your turns. Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight.

The Danish dough is now ready to be used. If you will not be using the dough within 24 hours, freeze it. To do this, roll the dough out to about 1 inch in thickness, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. Defrost the dough slowly in the refrigerator for easiest handling. Danish dough will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.


Makes enough for two braidsIngredients

4 Fuji or other apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch pieces

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Toss all ingredients except butter in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat until slightly nutty in color, about 6 - 8 minutes. Then add the apple mixture and sauté until apples are softened and caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes. If you’ve chosen Fujis, the apples will be caramelized, but have still retained their shape. Pour the cooked apples onto a baking sheet to cool completely before forming the braid. (If making ahead, cool to room temperature, seal, and refrigerate.) They will cool faster when spread in a thin layer over the surface of the sheet. After they have cooled, the filling can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Left over filling can be used as an ice cream topping, for muffins, cheesecake, or other pastries.

DANISH BRAID Makes enough for 2 large braids

Ingredients 1 recipe Danish Dough (see below)2 cups apple filling, jam, or preserves (see below)

For the egg wash: 1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk

1. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the Danish Dough into a 15 x 20-inch rectangle, ¼ inch thick. If the dough seems elastic and shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again. Place the dough on the baking sheet.

2. Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 5-inch-long cuts with a knife or rolling pastry wheel, each about 1 inch apart. Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you’ve already made.

3. Spoon the filling you’ve chosen to fill your braid down the center of the rectangle. Starting with the top and bottom “flaps”, fold the top flap down over the filling to cover. Next, fold the bottom “flap” up to cover filling. This helps keep the braid neat and helps to hold in the filling. Now begin folding the cut side strips of dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished. Trim any excess dough and tuck in the ends.Egg WashWhisk together the whole egg and yolk in a bowl and with a pastry brush, lightly coat the braid.Proofing and


1. Spray cooking oil (Pam…) onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid. Proof at room temperature or, if possible, in a controlled 90 degree F environment for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume and light to the touch.

2. Near the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven.

3. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan so that the side of the braid previously in the back of the oven is now in the front. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake about 15-20 minutes more, or until golden brown.

Cool and serve the braid either still warm from the oven or at room temperature. The cooled braid can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze for 1 month.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Happy Birthday Paulie

My boy turned 3 the other day, and with that came the obligatory birthday party with all the fixings. On his wish list? Scooby Doo décor and cupcakes, lots of cupcakes! So we Scoobied up the place with napkins, table cloths and all the Scooby parephrenalia I could find, and then I got to work on those cupcakes.

For the cupcakes, I decided on white cake (Dorie Greenspan's recipe for her Party Cake) with the BEST bittersweet chocolate frosting ever. I have literally been hunting, searching high and low for a really yummy homemade chocolate frosting. It has been years. I like buttercream, but they tend to taste like I'm devouring a stick of butter. Then a friend gave me the book "Birthday Cakes". In it, I found it...the absolute best chocoalte frosting recipe out there. (At least for now). This frosting is fantastic, it's a recipe by Emily Luchetti, which is on page 60 of the book. My husband, who usually avoids frosting, couldn't get enough of this one. But careful, it's rich and addictive!

PS I used the leftover frosting for pistachio macaron filling, it was divine.

Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting:

4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

8 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

3 cups confectioners' sugar

pinch of salt

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 cup plus 2 Tb. milk

In a double boiler over simmering water, melt the chocolates and butter together. Remove from heat and let cool to lukewarm (114 degrees).

Sift the confectioners' sugar and salt together into a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine the vanilla and the milk. Whisk this mixture into the confectioners' sugar. Add the melted and cooled chocolate and stir until smooth. Use on cake or cupcakes.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Daring Baker's Challenge May: L'Opéra, Ispahan Style!!!

Ahhh, l'opéra....The cake I've yearned to make in my own kitchen yet feared with every fibre of my apron. Until the Good Ol' Daring Bakers got a hold of me and forced me to do it! Yes, this month's challenge was the elusive Opera cake, but with a twist: No chocolate, no coffee buttercream. Yowza...what to do what to do...

Lis and Ivonne --otherwise known as the grand pubas of the Daring Bakers group -- offered up this challenge. They requested that we dedicate our challenge to a former DBer, Barbara of winosandfoodies.com. I am more than happy to oblige, and would like to go a step further and also dedicate my challenge to my own sister who is facing a very brave battle with breast cancer, which is why I chose to color my cake with pinks. It is also why I have not been the best blogger in the world these days, I've been so very preoccupied. But the cake and the love I put into it was worth the efforts and time I set aside for it.

Ok, on to the challenge. First, let me say that I LOVE Opéra cake, especially chocolate and coffee. Especially in Paris. Especially at Ladurée. But I've never done my own, and I've never seen one that wasn't made of chocolate and coffee. So when we were sworn off those flavors, but told we had to do something "light in color", I thought "how about pink?" When I realized I would make the cake in "breast cancer pink" (however, let's just say there is really nothing pretty or pink about breast cancer), I started thinking of flavors. This led me back to Paris (everything leads me back to Paris), and to the infamous Ispahan. So that was it: I would flavor my cake with rose and raspberry, in honor of the ever-so-yummy Ispahan by Pierre Hermé.

So then, off to the challenge. Ok folks, this cake took forever to make! It was not hard, just time consuming. The joconde (fancy word for "almond cake") was pretty easy, however I had to purchase a second jelly roll pan which was a bummer. The joconde was easy to make and bake, and turned out just fine, no issues at all.

The buttercream was another story. I have made many an Italian buttercream before, but for some reason this one simplywould NOT set. What a runny mess it was! So I took the advice of Tartelette (aka Helene) and put some of the runny buttercream in the freezer, re-incorporated it into the rest, and voila, it was picture perfect. I added rose essence to the buttercream, along with pink food coloring. I think I put in too much rose flavoring, the cake was too "rose" in the end. Next time I'll put in 1/2 the amount.

I made the cakes, cut them to size, brushed them with syrup (infused with Chambord), applied the buttercream, and wrapped it tightly for storage in the freezer, since I didn't need it for another week. (I planned to serve it at my friend Sharon's birthday party the following week. Thus the "S" on top!) The day before I served it, I defrosted the cake in the refrigerator and made the white chocolate mousse. This, I flavored with raspberry, by simply adding seedless raspberry jam to the melted white chocolate. Once the mousse was applied to the top of the layers, I froze it again, made my white chocolate glaze, and glazed over the top of the frozen cake.

The verdict? My friends LOVED it, although I do think it tasted too much of rose. They had never tasted anything quite like it. Compliments flew all over the place. But, the next time I do this cake, I will do it the old fashioned way, with coffee buttercream and a dark chocolate ganache.

I thank Ivonne and Lis for making me try it, now I feel it is something I can make for multiple occasions!

Here's the recipe!

For the joconde
(Note: The joconde can be made up to 1 day in advance and kept wrapped at room temperate)

What you’ll need:•2 12½ x 15½-inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans (Note: If you do not have jelly-roll pans this size, do not fear! You can use different-sized jelly-roll pans like 10 x 15-inches.)
•a few tablespoons of melted butter (in addition to what’s called for in the ingredients’ list) and a brush (to grease the pans)
•parchment paper
•a whisk and a paddle attachment for a stand mixer or for a handheld mixer
•two mixing bowls (you can make do with one but it’s preferable to have two)

6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds (Note: If you do not want to use almond meal, you can use another nut meal like hazelnut. You can buy almond meal in bulk food stores or health food stores, or you can make it at home by grinding almonds in the food processor with a tablespoon or two of the flour that you would use in the cake. The reason you need the flour is to prevent the almonds from turning oily or pasty in the processor. You will need about 2 cups of blanched almonds to create enough almond meal for this cake.)
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. (1½ ounces; 45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1.Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.
2.Preheat the oven to 425◦F. (220◦C).
3.Line two 12½ x 15½- inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.
4.In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or using a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. If you do not have another mixer bowl, gently scrape the meringue into another bowl and set aside.
5.If you only have one bowl, wash it after removing the egg whites or if you have a second bowl, use that one. Attach the paddle attachment to the stand mixer (or using a handheld mixer again) and beat the almonds, icing sugar and eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes.
6.Add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined (be very careful not to overmix here!!!).
7.Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture and then fold in the melted butter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.
8.Bake the cake layers until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. This could take anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes depending on your oven. Place one jelly-roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second jelly-roll pan in the bottom third of the oven.
9.Put the pans on a heatproof counter and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the pans over, and unmold.
10.Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.

For the syrup
(Note: The syrup can be made up to 1 week in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.)What you’ll need:
•a small saucepan

½ cup (125 grams) water
⅓ cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1 to 2 tbsp. of the flavouring of your choice (i.e., vanilla extract, almond extract, cognac, limoncello, coconut cream, honey etc.)

1.Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.
2.Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

For the buttercream
(Note: The buttercream can be made up to 1 month in advance and packed in an airtight container. If made way in advance, you can freeze the buttercream. Alternatively you can refrigerate it for up to 4 days after making it. To use the buttercream simply bring it to room temperature and then beat it briefly to restore its consistency.)

What you’ll need:
•a small saucepan
•a candy or instant-read thermometer
•a stand mixer or handheld mixer
•a bowl and a whisk attachment
•rubber spatula

1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
¼ cup (60 grams) water seeds of one vanilla bean (split a vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds) or 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract (Note: If you are flavouring your buttercream and do not want to use the vanilla, you do not have to. Vanilla will often enhance other flavours but if you want an intense, one-flavoured buttercream, then by all means leave it out!)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¾ sticks (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
flavouring of your choice (a tablespoon of an extract, a few tablespoons of melted white chocolate, citrus zest, etc.)

1.Combine the sugar, water and vanilla bean seeds or extract in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves.
2.Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225◦F (107◦C) [*Note: Original recipe indicates a temperature of 255◦F (124◦C), however, when testing the recipe I found that this was too high so we heated to 225◦F and it worked fine] on a candy or instant-read thermometer. Once it reaches that temperature, remove the syrup from the heat.
3.While the syrup is heating, begin whisking the egg and egg yolk at high speed in the bowl of your mixer using the whisk attachment. Whisk them until they are pale and foamy.
4.When the sugar syrup reaches the correct temperature and you remove it from the heat, reduce the mixer speed to low speed and begin slowly (very slowly) pouring the syrup down the side of the bowl being very careful not to splatter the syrup into the path of the whisk attachment. Some of the syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl but don’t worry about this and don’t try to stir it into the mixture as it will harden!
5.Raise the speed to medium-high and continue beating until the eggs are thick and satiny and the mixture is cool to the touch (about 5 minutes or so).
6.While the egg mixture is beating, place the softened butter in a bowl and mash it with a spatula until you have a soft creamy mass.
7.With the mixer on medium speed, begin adding in two-tablespoon chunks. When all the butter has been incorporated, raise the mixer speed to high and beat until the buttercream is thick and shiny.
8.At this point add in your flavouring and beat for an additional minute or so.
9.Refrigerate the buttercream, stirring it often, until it’s set enough (firm enough) to spread when topped with a layer of cake (about 20 minutes).

For the white chocolate ganache/mousse (this step is optional – please see Elements of an Opéra Cake below) (Note: The mousse can be made ahead and refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.)

What you’ll need:
•a small saucepan
•a mixer or handheld mixer

7 ounces white chocolate
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)
1 tbsp. liquer of your choice (Bailey’s, Amaretto, etc.)

1.Melt the white chocolate and the 3 tbsp. of heavy cream in a small saucepan.
2.Stir to ensure that it’s smooth and that the chocolate is melted. Add the tablespoon of liqueur to the chocolate and stir. Set aside to cool completely.
3.In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form.
4.Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse.
5.If it’s too thin, refrigerate it for a bit until it’s spreadable.6.If you’re not going to use it right away, refrigerate until you’re ready to use.

For the glaze (Note: It’s best to make the glaze right when you’re ready to finish the cake.)
What you’ll need:
•a small saucepan or double boiler

14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup heavy cream (35% cream)

1.Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream. Whisk the mixture gently until smooth.
2.Let cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the chilled cake. Using a long metal cake spatula, smooth out into an even layer.
3.Place the cake into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set.

Assembling the Opéra Cake
(Note: The finished cake should be served slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day).
Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.Working with one sheet of cake at a time, cut and trim each sheet so that you have two pieces (from each cake so you’ll have four pieces in total): one 10-inch (25-cm) square and one 10 x 5-inch (25 x 12½-cm) rectangle.

Step A (if using buttercream only and not making the ganache/mousse):
Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.Spread about one-third of the buttercream over this layer.Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.Spread another third of the buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde. Spread the remaining buttercream on top of the final layer of joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.

Step B (if making the ganache/mousse):Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.Spread about three-quarters of the buttercream over this layer.Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.Spread the remaining buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).Prepare the ganache/mousse (if you haven’t already) and then spread it on the top of the last layer of the joconde. Refrigerate for at least two to three hours to give the ganache/mousse the opportunity to firm up.Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.

Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.

Monday, May 12, 2008

My Apologies

I've heard from a few folks who come to my blog regularly, wondering where my goodies have gone. My sister is sick and I have been spending most of my weekends with her, and that is my regular baking and cooking time. Hopefully things will be back to normal again very shortly, stay tuned....and thanks for your interest and your patience.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Daring Baker's Challenge for April: Sitting Out

No DB challenge for me this month. I have a very sick family member and have been helping her every weekend this month, so I haven't had time for much baking. That's why the blog has been slow lately...sorry.
Hopefully things will get back to normal soon!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Trader Joe's Frozen Croissants

I've died and gone to Gai Pareeeee....Not really, I've actually only driven to Trader Joe's where I found to my glee that they are now stocking FROZEN CROISSANTS! A while back I posted about how good their frozen chocolate croissants are, wondering if they would ever get smart and add the infamous pain au chocolat's plain yet scrumptious sister in pastry-hood, the croissant. And it must be good karma, my wish was their command! Today while shopping, in the midst of the frozen food delights (you have to admit, TJs has awesome frozen goodies) I spied something croissant-esque. Was it? Yes it was! A tiny little box of 8 mini frozen croissants!

To make them is a snap. All you do is let them proof on the counter overnight and pop them in the oven in the morning. Your kitchen develops that highly sought-after French pastry shop smell (oh yum) and in 20 minutes you have hot croissants. And they are GOOD. REALLY good. And at $3.99 a box, much more affordable than the frozen croissants that Williams-Sonoma sells (plus you don't have to pay extra for shipping, or wait for them to arrive in your mailbox).

So, in these days of zillion dollar plane tickets and value-less dollars, if you're yearning for a real French breakfast, get ye to Trader Joe's! (No, TJ's does not pay me for this, I'm just a die-hard fan of the good stuff and toot its horn whenever I can).

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Daring Baker's Challenge: Dorie's Perfect Party Cake

Dorie Greenspan is one of those people who is so lucky to have found her true calling in life. From what I gather about her, she is a former writer who found her love for pastry and became a pastry chef. Put these two talents together and what do you get? One heck of a great cookbook writer, whether it be her own books or writing those of others (Pierre Hermé comes to mind). But I had never actually made one of her personal recipes until this month, thanks to Morven at the Daring Bakers.

This month's challenge? Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake. I looooove to bake cakes, I'm not much of a decorator but I can make a good cake, so I was very excited to try a new one. Plus, this was a white cake which I've never made before. The first thing I did was to go to the bookstore to see what the cake should look like in the end (and I decided that this is a book I must buy, it's huge and has a zillion great recipes in it). The photos of the cake were gorgeous, all white and fluffy with some beautiful pink filling inside. To me, the cake screamed Easter, so I decided it would be our Easter dessert.

Making the cake was really quite simple. One thing I've learned about Dorie Greenspan's recipe writing, you don't mess with it. What she says goes, and if you follow it precisely you will have excellent results. So I just followed her recipe to the "t" and it all came together great. Many DBs had trouble with the cake not rising, but mine rose just fine so I'm not quite sure what the problem was. The buttercream whipped up so smoothly and easily and it spread like a dream. I heated my raspberry jam so it would be a bit more liquid, and then brushed it on the cake rounds, which worked nicely and kept it from being too gloppy. I was very careful in spreading the buttercream over the jam, trying not to mix them, I just rocked my wrist back and forth over the buttercream until it came to the edges of the cake. For the most part that did the trick.

As for the decorating, I wanted the cake to say "Easter" but not be too crazy. I toyed with making pink and green macarons for the outside, but ran out of time. So I found these really nice pastel colored mints at the Fresh Market and applied them to the sides of the cake. They looked really Spring-like and pretty. Plus, they are delicious.

The cake was "refreshing" everyone said. It had an excellent. tight crumb and the lemon flavor was light and made the cake really fresh for Springtime. The buttercream, while good, was a bit heavy and I would probably use a white chocolate whipped cream next time, but it was still very yummy. Would I make this again? Certainly, especially for a birthday, Easter or a shower. This is a keeper.
To see other beautiful Daring Baker cakes, check them out here.

For the Cake
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt1
¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean

Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners.Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.Remove the bowl from the heat.Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.

Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.

During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.Spread it with one third of the preserves.Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.ServingThe cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.

Playing Around
Since lemon is such a friendly flavour, feel free to make changes in the preserves: other red preserves – cherry or strawberry – look especially nice, but you can even use plum or blueberry jam.Fresh Berry CakeIf you will be serving the cake the day it is made, cover each layer of buttercream with fresh berries – use whole raspberries, sliced or halved strawberries or whole blackberries, and match the preserves to the fruit. You can replace the coconut on top of the cake with a crown of berries, or use both coconut and berries. You can also replace the buttercream between the layers with fairly firmly whipped sweetened cream and then either frost the cake with buttercream (the contrast between the lighter whipped cream and the firmer buttercream is nice) or finish it with more whipped cream. If you use whipped cream, you’ll have to store the cake the in the refrigerator – let it sit for about 20 minutes at room temperature before serving.