Monday, January 28, 2008

Daring Baker's Challenge: Lemon Meringue Pie

Finally I have something to post. Not that I have been deliberately avoiding my blog, but after the diabetic coma I was in post-holidays, I had to take a break from the baking. Plus, my arse wasn't getting any smaller. Or my husband's. Or my toddler's.

But the Daring Bakers call, and the call for the month was a Lemon Meringue Pie. Now, when I found out it was a lemon meringue pie, although I LOVE lemon meringue pie, I was a touch disappointed just because a) I have made these and find them rather simple to make and b) I think of LMP as a summertime dessert, not something for the 5 degree weather we've been enduring. But, when it's my turn to choose a challenge, I'm sure I'll come up with something that won't be everyone's cup o tea. And plus, now I have lemon meringue pie in the house, and that's never a bad thing.

I made tartlets instead of a pie, since I had some cute tartlet pans and have never made Lemon Meringue Tarts.

So I made the dough (thank God for the food processor) which was super easy to make and roll. I made my crusts first, they turned out just perfect.

Then I completed the filling, and there again, it came together perfectly. I think the trick to lemon curd is to know when the it is thick "enough" but not too thick while it is cooking on the stove. If it gets too thick, it gets glumpy and chewy. I look for a runny pudding consistency.

So I filled the tarts, made a gorgeous meringue, piped the meringue, everything was going along swimmingly. My children were on their stools saying "oooh, ice cream, ice cream!"...anything fluffy white and swirled equals ice cream in their worlds.

Before baking, I recalled that many of the Daring Bakers were having a problem with this lemon curd actually setting. Many said it was too runny even after being baked. So I looked at the baking time suggested, then looked at my traditional LMP recipe's baking time, which was much longer but at a lower temperature (300 degrees F). So, dummy that I am, I thought it would be a good idea to do the longer bake at a lower temperature.

Well, they baked up beautifully, they taste great, but the meringue hardened and cracked. LMP is NOT supposed to have hardened and cracked meringue. And no LMP that I've ever made has turned out that way. I simply had them in the oven too long, and I think that since I had a lot less meringue on each tartlet than I would have had on a whole pie, the meringue hardened. It kind of tastes like a meringue cookie on top of the lemon curd. But the lemon curd cooked beautifully, and the cookie-esque crust tastes delicious. Lesson learned, next time don't listen to the other people, just follow the recipe as is.

Speaking of which, here is the recipe:
Check out the other results of the Daring Bakers here.

Lemon Meringue Pie
Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie

For the Crust:
3/4 cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/3 cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Filling:
2 cups (475 mL) water
1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 mL) cornstarch
5 egg yolks, beaten
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
3/4 cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
3/4 cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

To Make the Crust:
Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt.Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of 1/8 inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about 1/2 inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.

To Make the Filling:
Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated. Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick.

Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

To Make the Meringue:
Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.

Free-Style Lemon Tartlets(from "Ripe for Dessert" by David Lebovitz)
Prepare the recipe as above but complete the following steps:To roll out tartlet dough, slice the dough into 6 pieces. On lightly floured surface, roll each circle of dough into a 5 inch disk. Stack the disks, separated by pieces of plastic wrap, on a plate, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.To bake the dough, position rack in oven to the centre of oven and preheat to 350ºF (180ºC). Place the disks of dough, evenly spaced, on a baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. Cool completely.

To finish tartlets, first place oven rack in the upper third of the oven and increase heat to 425ºF. Divide the lemon filling equally among the disks, mounding it in the centre and leaving a 1-inch border all the way around. Spoon the meringue decoratively over each tartlet, right to the edges, in dramatic swirling peaks.Return tartlets to oven and bake for about 5 minutes, until the meringue is golden brown.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Salted (or not) Caramel

A lot of people are incredibly intimidated by making their own caramel. I was too, for a time, until I gave it a go. I think what is scary about it is the can easily burn if you cook it too long, and you have to know when to take it off the stove. But really, making your own caramel is pretty simple.

I like salted caramel, I think the addition of the salt gives a great layer of flavor to the otherwise uber-sweet caramel. I make this to put over ice cream, in macarons, under wonderful chocolate or ginger cakes. The uses go on and on. You could even harden it just a touch and make caramel candies from it.

One word to the wise...DON'T TOUCH! Boiling hot sugar is HOT, and it will burn the fingerprints right off of you. It's tempting, but no tasting until it's only warm!

If you want the unsalted version, just take the salt out of this recipe:

Salted Caramel

3 tablespoonscorn syrup
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
2/3 cupdouble or heavy cream
3/4 - 1 teaspoon (level) rock salt or coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons/25g unsalted butter, diced

Bring the corn syrup to a boil in s medium sauce pan.
Gradually add the sugar, stirring until the sugar has started to caramelize and turn golden brown.
Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, bring the cream and salt to a boil.
Remove the caramel from the heat and cautiously add the cream . Do be careful because the mixture will probably bubble up in your pan.
Stir carefully over a low heat until smooth.
Remove from the heat, add the diced butter, and stir again until smooth.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Restaurant Review: Tinks in Cincinnati

I live in a fairly eclectic corner of a rather conservative town. The area of town is called "Clifton" and it's full of professors, students, artists and the like. I've lived here for what seems a lifetime, and I've seen restaurants come and go.

One of the best restaurant additions to our corner of town is definitely Tink's. Tink's is a semi-high end American restaurant that serves just plain delicious food. I have rarely had a bad experience there, and when I was last there with a group of eight girlfriends, we were treated to such flawless service and delicious food that I realize I have to recommend it to others.

The menu crosses from meat to seafood to vegetarian, there is truly something for everyone. The best appetizer they have, in my opinion, is the smoked salmon tartar...served with wasabi on thin, crisp potato pancakes. It's to die for. My favorite entree here is the shrimp and grits. Sounds simple and possibly sloppy, but it's got boursin, cheddar grits and a tasso demi glace, it's phenomenal. Don't count the calories, it's too good to ruin with a calorie count!

The atmosphere is beautiful, with one whole wall a huge paned glass window. The wait staff is consistently delightful, they are the kind that remember you from your last visit, even if it was months ago. And the food is timed perfectly. It's just a great restaurant. I can't wait to go again!! Thanks Tink's, for coming to Clifton!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Liege Sugared Belgian Waffles

Ok, everyone has had a Belgian waffle of some sort. Head over to IHOP and you can get a round "Belgian Waffle" usually covered in fruit, powdered sugar and whipped cream. These are not bad, rather tasty, easy to make at home...

But are they REAL Belgian waffles? I think not. Anyone who has meandered through the streets of Brussels, Bruges or of course Liege in Belgium has been lucky enough to taste a bona fide Belgian waffle...sugary, caramelised, and with no need for toppings (although the best chocolate sauce in the universe is always available to dribble over the top). I had a boyfriend from Belgium way back when, and I spent many a day in Belgium, getting to know and love these waffles.

But back in the states I never tried to replicate the true Liege Belgian waffle. I was happy with yeasted Belgian waffles that I could whip up at home. After re-tasting these delicious treats thanks to Jean-François, a Belgian transplant that lives here in Cincinnati and sells his waffles at various Farmer's Markets and cafés around town. His waffles are called "A Taste From Belgium". And let me hand it to him, they ARE a taste from Belgium. One bite and I had a true Proust-with-the-Madeleine moment...I was transported to a damp cobblestone street in a cute village of Belgium, devouring my warm waffle...

So I did some research, and came up with this recipe for "Liège Belgian Waffles". (Found on ChowHound, but no source was given). They are not "perfect", but they are darn close to the real thing. The secret, I have found, is to use pearl sugar (same as I used on my brioche). This is what caramelizes in the waffle iron. You can get pearl sugar from L'Epicerie.

Sugar Waffles from Liege (Luikse Wafels) (Gaufres Liegeoises)

Batter 1:

1 1/4 ounces fresh cake yeast or 2 1/2 packages active dry yeast

1/4 cup warm water (about 100 degrees F)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 large egg, beaten

1/3 cup milk, warmed to 100 degrees F

Batter 2:

9 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

pinch of salt

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 cup pearl sugar or 3/4 cup crushed sugar cubes

Prepare Batter 1:

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warmwater with 1 tbsp. flour and the sugar. Let stand for 5 minutesuntil foamy. Sift the remaining flour into a large mixing bowl.

Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture, egg and milk.Mix well with a wooden spoon to make a smooth batter.

Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until the batter hasdoubled or tripled in volume.

Meanwhile, prepare Batter 2:

In a medium-sized bowl, mix the butter, flour, salt, vanilla, bakingpowder, cinnamon (if using), granulated sugar, and pearl sugar into a paste.

With your hands, work Batter 2 into Batter 1 until well mixed. (I used my mixer with the dough hook attachment).

Shape the dough into 10 balls, approximately 2 1/2 to 3 ounceseach. Flatten each ball into a disk and dust lightly with flour.

Bake in a medium-hot waffle iron.

Don't let the iron become too hot or the sugar will burn.

Bake until the waffles are goldenbrown but still slightly soft, 3-4 minutes.

Serve the sugar waffles lukewarm or cooled to room temperature on a rack.

Sugar waffles will keep well for several days in an airtight container, if you manage to have any left over.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Brioche always scared me...until I started making breads and sticky buns and other yeast-filled treats. Now I am dying to make the perfect brioche. Anyone who has been lucky enough to have a fresh, light, flaky brioche in France knows what a treat these can be...and I want to be able to make them at my leisure!

So, I simply took the Brioche Sticky Bun recipe from Nancy Silverton and made sticky buns with 1/2 the dough, and 12 mini brioche with the other half. It was so easy, scary easy. I am not thrilled with their forms, I have to work on forming my balls and getting them looking like a Pillsbury Dough Boy head (if you know what I mean!), but WOW were they delicious. My very tiny children each ate 2 at one sitting, and my husband and I probably downed 3 each. We both found they tasted best without jam. The jam takes away from the lightly sweetened dough.

I sprinkled the egg washed tops with Pearl Sugar that I purchased from L', and I baked them at 350 for about 25 minutes.

I'm getting really into this bread thing!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Chocolate Decadence Cake

I have found it: the perfect, fudgy chocolate cake recipe. It contains very little flour, but is not considered a flourless cake. It is moist and rich and so full of good chocolate flavor, you won't believe your tastebuds. Friends who ate it said in one long breath: "Oh my God this is so good" when they took the first bite. My husband horded it, even putting off his New Year's diet so he could indulge in the cake. Best of all, it's one of those cakes that is so easy to make (5 ingredients) that you can't believe it could possibly taste this complicated.

It took me 15 minutes to make the cake. (Minus baking time, but really, there's no work in that). It required two bowls, one for the chocolate and one mixing bowl. My kitchen remained clean, it was phenomenal...I will be sure to make it for a last minute "throw together" dessert that will make people think I went to the high end bakery in town to impress them with a fabulous cake.

Where did I find it? None other than the flawless Pierre Hermé. It's one of his recipes (called "Suzy's Cake") in his Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé book, one of the treasures I received for Christmas. If you love to bake and love a challenge, I highly recommend this book, it is full of must-bakes! I can't wait to try some of them, hopefully I am worthy! If not, I'll gladly head to his bakery in's like a pastry museum!


8 3/4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (I used Valrhona, 71%), finely chopped

2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup sugar

4 large eggs at room temp.

1/2 cup plus 1 Tb. all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 9 inch cake pan, line the bottom with parchment, butter the parchment and flour the pan.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, set it aside to cool, it should be just warm when you mix it in with the rest of the ingredients.

Beat the butter and sugar in a mixer with the paddle attachment for about 4 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating between each egg for about one minute.

With the mixer still running (not too high), add the chocolate and beat until just incorporated.

Again with the mixer still running (not too high), add the flour and beat until just incorporated. Finish mixing the ingredients with a rubber spatula, being sure all the flour has been incorporated into the batter.

Fill the cake pan and bake for about 28 minutes or so. When you take the cake out, the middle will look like it's not yet cooked. That is normal. A knife inserted in the center will come out with some batter on it. That too is normal. You don't want to over-bake the cake.

Cool on a wire rack. When the cake is at room temperature, place the cake in the refrigerator for an hour or two, this makes it easier to unmold.

Unmold cake onto a wire rack and then invert onto a serving platter.

The cake is FABULOUS with whipped cream or creme anglaise. The cake can be kept wrapped at room temperature or in the refrigerator for 3 - 4 days, or frozen for up to a month.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Caramel au Beurre Salé Macarons (Salted Butter Caramel Macarons)

If you've ever been to France, particularly Paris and particularly in the past 3 - 4 years, you have been witness to the explosion of salted butter caramel. Berthillon, the famed glacier on the Ile St. Louis, now has a Salted Butter Caramel ice cream which is so good I could seriously lock myself in a closet with a few gallons of it and go to town. Ladurée and Pierre Hermé have developed fantastic macarons filled with salted butter caramel, which I stock up on while in town.

Inspired, I decided to try my own salted butter caramel macaron. For the shells, I used a plain macaron batter. But I filled them with a FANTASTIC salted butter caramel. The caramel is REALLY hard to handle. It oozed, it got stuck places, the shells slid around...I probably should have waited for the caramel to set just a bit longer. But wait too long and you have a hard caramel that will crack the delicate shells. Must practice more...nothing wrong with macaron practice.

I put a few grains of sea salt on the top of each macaron before they baked. That added a little more of the salt flavor. My husband thought they tasted like the best caramel corn he's ever had...The French would probably not approve of a macaron being compared with caramel corn, but I think he's right...

Anyway, for the 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. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 12 minutes.

For the caramel:

3 tablespoonscorn syrup

1 1/2 cupscaster sugar

2/3 cup double or heavy cream

3/4 - 1 teaspoon rock salt or coarse sea salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced

Pour the glucose syrup into a large saucepan and bring it to a boil.

Slowly add the sugar, stir until dissolved and continue to cook until the sugar has started to caramelize and turn golden brown. You shouldn't touch the sugar while it is going through this process.

Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, bring the cream and salt to a boil.

Remove the caramel from the heat and gently add the cream.

Stir over low heat until smooth.

Remove from the heat and add the diced butter.

Stir until smooth. Let it set until it is spreadable, then use it on your macarons.

Sorry For a Prolonged Absence!

With the holidays and a lot of travel to see family, "le blog" kind of got swept to the side. But I'm home and with the New Year will come many new yummies to share.

Hope everyone had a great Christmas and that 2008 will be full of blessings!