Thursday, February 28, 2008

Daring Baker's Challenge: Julia Child's French Baguette

Ohhhhhh la la. I've always wanted to bake baguette, but I've been afraid, very afraid. I mean, I've been lucky enough to have lived in France and I know faaaaaar too well what a "real" baguette is supposed to taste like. A French baguette is a dream, to smell a freshly baked one is one of those Proustian experiences. And that's the mythical French baguette that is SO hard to reproduce. I've had multiple baguettes in the USA and none even come close to the real French baguette: a golden hue, a slight crunch when you squeeze it, giving in to a soft and chewy center with big holes and a great flavor. Some say it's a difference in the flour that is available in France versus the US. Regardless of why, I have always been a "baguette in France" aficionada!While living in France, I would eat baguette for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I was one of those people who bought baguettes at the bakery and would gnaw the tip off in the subway before the baguette was even cool, making my fellow metro-riders green with baguette envy. Baguettes were a staple for me. I didn't think I could EVER make one of my own. Until now....

In come the Daring Bakers and the challenge posed by Breadchick and Sara: Julia Child's French Bread. At first I winced at the challenge, not because I didn't like it, but because I knew this was the one thing I had avoided for so long. And because I would know too well if it failed.

So I tackled the recipe, which is long but the steps involved are easy. I used my KitchenAid mixer with the dough hook attachment, which made it even easier. Add ingredients, mix up, let rise. Easy as pie. I loved the way this dough rose: so fluffy and light with great big bubbles. It was a beautiful dough. My problem came in the shaping. I think I might have deflated too many of the bubbles. I had a tight crumb but was looking for something a bit more chewy and with larger holes. The final product tasted great, though, and the three baguettes I made from it disappeared within the day. I had a little left over the next day, which I spread with Nutella and had my semi-Proustian moment. No, my baguettes were not worthy of a Parisian boulangerie, but they weren't bad either. They just need fine tuning.

My one question for other bread bakers out there: how do I get that wonderful French baguette crust? My crust seemed so hard, too hard for baguette. I was looking for something that was golden, which gave a crisp crunch but wasn't too dense, and I found that my crust was too dense. What's the secret? (I steamed the oven, sprayed the walls with water, etc.)

If you plan on making this bread for dinner, be sure to start early, at around 9 a.m. at the latest. It takes a lot of time to ferment, so you need to time it just so. But the recipe says to let it cool for 2 hours before eating. Whatever. I cut into mine after 20 minutes!! SOOOOO good to have warm bread.

Anyway, I loved the recipe and look forward to doing it again because like all things I'm sure that with French baguette "practice makes perfect"!

Bon appétit! Here's the recipe courtesy of Breadchick! and of Sara, of Iliketocook. And to see the other amazing results, check the Daring Bakers blogroll!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Cinnamon Buns for a Cold Winter's Day

I don't know about you, but in the winter I crave cinnamon. Anything warm and sweet with cinnamon in it just calls my name. So this past weekend, with the snow falling, I decided to break out The Bread Baker's Apprentice and try Peter Reinhart's cinnamon buns.

I'm quite the novice at the old yeast thing. Just having something "alive" in my baked goods gives me the willies. But in reality, yeast is so easy to work with and makes you feel like a bread-baking phenom. I mean, all you really need is a KitchenAid mixer and a packet of yeast. You can do anything!

So I got out my mixer and my yeast (and other necessary ingredients) and went to town. The buns were very easy to make, easier and less time consuming than the Brioche Sticky Buns I have made in the past. But I have to say, the Brioche buns are lighter and have a wonderful taste and texture, and I like them a little more....probably due to the 5,000 pounds of butter you put in them!! Actually, the brioche buns call for 1.5 sticks of butter (16 Tb.) plus one stick for the topping, where these cinnamon buns call for 51/2 Tb. of butter. Many fewer calories! And the brioche buns call for 5 eggs, while these call for only one. So if you are feeling rather decadent and like you can spare a few hundred calories, make the brioche buns. But if you just want the yummeee taste and smell of a warm cinnamon bun without a billion calories, these are for you. All time requirements are in RED.


6 1/2 Tb. granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
5 1/2 Tb. unsalted butter at room temperature (but not too soft or runny)
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 tsp. lemon extract or 1 tsp. grated lemon zest
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/4 cups whole milk at room temperature
1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (6 1/2 Tb. granulated sugar plus 1 1/2 Tb. ground cinnamon) *** I would double this for a greater cinnamon taste.

Sift 4 cups of powdered sugar in a bowl. Add lemon, orange or vanilla extract, and 6 Tb. - 1/2 cup of warm milk. Whisk quickly until all the sugar is dissolve, adding the milk slowly until it is a thick and smooth paste.

For buns:
Cream together the sugar, salt and butter using the paddle of an electric mixer.
Whip in the egg and lemon until smooth.
Add flour, yeast and milk.
Mix on low speed until you get a ball, switch to the dough hook, increase to medium speed and mix for about 10 minutes. (if kneading by hand, it's about 15 minutes). Your dough will be silky and tacky but not sticky. Add water or flour as needed to achieve this consistency.
Lightly oil a large bowl and tranfer the dough to the bowl, coating the dough ball with the oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for 2 hours at room temperature. Dough should double in size.

Transfer the dough to a counter dusted with flour.

Roll out the dough, about 2/3 inch thick and 14 inches wide x 12 inches long if you are making large buns, 18 inches wide x 9 inches long if you want smaller buns.

Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar (I would double what he calls for, I found there to be not enough cinnamon flavor with his measurements) over the dough.

Roll up the dough into a log, starting at the side closest to you.

With the seam down, cut dough into 8 - 12 large pieces or 12 - 16 smaller pieces. Place the pieces on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, about 1 inch apart.

****This is where I realized I didn't need 16 cinnamon buns for the following morning, and I didn't want to bake any of them at the moment. So I froze 8 to have later, and I retarded the rest of them by putting the other 8 in the refrigerator. The next morning, I took them out of the refrigerator and let them rise for 3.5 hours on the countertop. For the frozen ones, I will remove them from the freezer the night before and let them rise overnight on the countertop.

If you are making the buns for the same day, this is the time you will let them rise. Proof at room temperature for about 1.5 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and bake for 20 - 30 minutes or until they are golden brown.

Let them cool for 10 minutes, then spread the glaze over the top.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day!

If I could, for Valentine's Day I would personally give Pierre Hermé a smooch. But he would probably think "Who eez zeez crazeee americaine?" Why the love for Pierre? His book, his dreamy book, Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé. Since I got this book for Christmas I have been wowing friends and family with his fabulousness, albeit on a smaller scale and maybe not so perfect. But hey, most of them have never tried his stuff so they know nothing...

So tomorrow is Valentine's Day, and now that I'm a mom that means more than just buying my husband a bottle of cologne and having some dinner. Now kids are involved, and teachers come with the package. So, for my preschooler's teachers, I decided to make chocolate macarons. A major crowd-pleaser, you can't go wrong with macarons as a gift. I've made them multiple times in the past, David Lebovitz's recipe, Sherry Yard's recipe, and today I decided to tackle good old Pierre's recipe. Since everything else in his book seems to die for, these probably would be too.

Macarons are macarons, and all the recipes resemble each other more or less. And every batch could be a huge success or a major bomb, you never know until they come out of the oven. But Hermé is a scientific baker, and I knew that there would be a reason for his very precise measurements and kind of wacky baking method. My macarons did not come out perfectly, though. To the average Joe, they look great. But some of them have the bumpy top that all macaron bakers come to despise like the devil himself. My slip up was in beating my egg whites...I beat them too long (preschooler needed some attention in the middle of the whipping). Not TOO too long, but my macarons ended up with too much puff on top. But no matter, they still turned out DELICIOUS.

Pierre does something I havena't seen in another macaron recipe. He has you start at a very high temperature (425) and lower it to 350 once the macarons are in the oven, then put a wooden spoon in the door. What I found is that this leads to a very very tender macaron. Nice and soft in the middle, but not too soft.

To quote my husband as he bit into one of the "ugly" ones: "My God, these are good."

Pierre Hermé's Chocolate Macarons

Prepare 3 baking sheets with either a silpat (my preference) or parchment paper.

Have ready a pastry bag with 1/4 inch round tip.

1/2 cup egg whites (about 4 egg whites) at room temperature

2 cups plus 2 Tb powdered sugar

1 1/3 cups almond flour

1/4 cup cocoa powder (Dutch processed is best)

Sift together the powdered sugar, almond flour and cocoa powder. Set aside.

In a stand mixer, whip the egg whites until glossy peaks form.

With a rubber spatula, combine the dry ingredients with the egg whites, in 3 or 4 additions. Fold the dry ingredients in, and continue folding until you get a cake-batter-like consistency. If you make a peak with the batter, it should disappear rather quickly. Keep folding until you get that consistency.

Fill a pastry bag with a 1/4 inch round tip with the batter, and pipe 1 inch circles on your baking sheets. Dust with additional cocoa powder.

Let them sit out for 15-30 minutes. (Pierre says 15, I usually go a bit longer).

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. When the macarons are ready to bake, bake them one sheet at a time. Place the baking sheet in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 350. (Each time you bake a new pan of macarons, re-preheat the oven to 425 before putting them in, and lower it to 350 once they are in.) Put a wooden spoon in the door of the oven, leaving it slightly ajar. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes.

Pierre's method: When macarons come out of the oven, pour a bit of water underneath the parchment paper. Let the water get under the entire sheet of paper by moving the pan a bit. Let the macarons soak up some of that moisture for about 15 minutes, then carefully peel the macarons from the paper.

My method: I use a silpat, so I just wait for the macs to cool and then I peel them off the silpat mat. But one day I'll try the magical paper/water method and see if it makes a difference.

Filling the macarons:

Chocolate Ganache:

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate

2 teaspoons corn syrup

1/2 cup cream

1 Tb. butter

Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a small to medium bowl. Heat the cream 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.

Refrigerate and serve the following day, or keep at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

French Crepes

Last week being Mardi Gras and all, I decided to break out the crepe pan and make some crepes for dessert, just like we used to when I was living in France. The idea of crepes on Mardi Gras is to get rid of the butter and eggs from your house, since you aren't supposed to indulge in those during Lent!
So I have already done the Julia Child recipe which I really like a lot, and I decided to try Tartelette's recipe, since it calls for beer and that is something I've never put in a crepe! The idea behind the beer is that it gives the crepes these yummy holes.

I liked her recipe, although I have to say my crepes were a bit tougher than the Julia Child recipe. Could be me, could be the recipe, not sure. I filled them with homemade chocolate sauce or cinnamon, sugar and butter. They were gobbled up in no time, and my kids declared they "love" crepes! Mission accomplished.
Here is Tartelette's recipe:

Makes 12 crepes

250 g flour
2 cups milk
3 eggs
1 Tb. oil
pinch of salt
1/2 cup light beer

In a blender or food processor, combine all the igredients and pulse until fully incorporated and no lumps remain.
If you decide to do it by hand: combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Make a well in the center and add the eggs, oil and a little bit of milk. Work the batter with a whisk, and slowly add the remaining milk, until the batter comes together and the lumps disappear. Add the beer.
No matter what method you used, strain the batter if necessary. Refrigerate, covered for an hour.
In a saute pan set over medium high heat, laddle 1/4 -1/3 cup batter (depending on the size of your pan) and cook 1-2 minutes on each side.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Pierre Hermés "Concorde"

Not long ago, I would have never believed I could make a Pierre Hermé recipe. For those who don't know of him, he is the Pastry God of Paris. Make that of the Universe. His shops are constantly full, with lines out the door, all for the possession and comsumption of one of his beautiful creations. I myself have waited in line for 45 minutes just to buy one of his macarons. And it was worth every second...

What gave me the courage to try one of Pierre Hermé's recipes? I made macarons. I really think that once you can successfully make macarons (and I mean French macarons, not American macaroons), you feel like you can create just about anything in the kitchen. My courage skyrocketed, and off I went.

So, I received my Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé cookbook for Christmas, and I am determined to make everything in the book. I started with the Chocolate Decadence Cake, which was so easy and probably one of the best desserts I've ever made.

Over the weekend, I had guests coming for dinner, so I decided to tackle the ever-famous "Concorde". The "Concorde" (named after the Place de la Concorde in Paris) is one of the most popular cakes at Lenotre, where Pierre Hermé did his apprenticeship. It's basically meringue and chocolate mousse. It looks a LOT more difficult than it is. As long as you have the right equipment (stand mixer, pastry bag) you can definitely make this cake.

My girlfriend said to me: "You could be a pastry chef in Paris." after she ate this cake. Now THAT'S a compliment!


1 cup (200 grams) confectioners' sugar

3 Tb. Dutch processed cocoa powder

4 large egg whites at room temperature

1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar

-Position oven racks into thirds and preheat the oven to 250 degrees F, (120 degrees C).

-You will need three 9 inch parchment rounds (or trace two 8 1/2 inch circles on one sheet of parchment and another 8 1/2 inch circle on a second sheet of parchment).

-Fit a large pastry bag with a plain 1/2 inch tip (1.5 cm.) (I used a 1/4 inch tip and it worked ok).

-Sift the confectioners' sugar and cocoa powder together in a bowl.

-Beat egg whites at room temperature in a clean and dry mixer bowl. Once they start to form soft peaks, add half of the granulated sugar. Continue beating until you get firm peaks. Reduce the speed to medium low and gradually add the remaining sugar, beat until combined.

-Remove the bowl and with a large rubber spatula gently fold in the sifted confectioners' sugar/cocoa mixture. Work delicately folding, you will lose some air and that is normal. Combine until the sugar/cocoa powder is completely absorbed.

-Spoon 2/3 of the batter in the pastry bag and begin to pipe a spiral in your circles. Start from the center and pipe a spiral all the way to the outside edge, trying to keep the disk thin (1/3 inch), uniform and with no holes. Pipe all three discs in this manner. Use an offset spatula to even out the discs or fill in holes if necessary.
-With the remaining batter, make a series of long strips everywhere you can on your parchment paper (or silpat). You will cut these up to place on the top and sides of the cake.

-Bake for 1.5 - 2 hours with the oven door ajar (use a wooden spoon), rotating the pans two or three times during baking.

-Turn off oven and leave the meringues in the oven to dry, for another 2 hours, with the door closed.

-Transfer the meringues to racks to cool, remove the parchment and store in a cool dry place, in an airtight container. (Can be made up to one week in advance).

Chocolate Mousse:

8 3/4 oz (250 grams) bittersweet chocolate (I used Valrhona)

2 sticks plus 1 1/2 Tb (8 3/4 oz, 250 grams) unsalted butter at room temp.

6 large egg whites, room temp.

1 Tb sugar

3 large egg yolks, room temp., beaten lightly

-Melt the chocolate over simmering water.

-When chocolate is melted and hot, add the egg yolks and stir together. (I did this because I didn't want to consume raw egg yolks. Pierre Hermé has you add the three egg yolks to the whipped egg whites. It worked perfectly fine the way I did it.)

-Cool to about 114 degrees F (45 degrees C)

-Using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the butter until it is very smooth. Add the cooled chocolate in three additions, beating until well blended.

-Scrape chocolate mixture into a large bowl.

-Thoroughly wash and dry the mixer bowl and whisk.

-Whip the egg whites on high speed until they hold soft peaks. While the mixer is still on high, add the sugar and continue to whip until the whites hold firm and glossy peaks. (Here is where Pierre Hermé adds his egg yolks and whips for another 30 seconds).

-With a large rubber spatula, stir 1/4 of the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture to lighten. Then fold in the rest of the egg mixture.

-Mousse should be used immediately.


-Use a cardboard cake round as your base (trim it if necessary).

-Put a dollop of mousse in center to hold the first meringue disc in place.

-Cover the first meringue disc with almost 1/2 of the mousse.

-Put the second meringue disc on top of the mousse, jiggling it so that it is even.

-Cover second meringue disc with 3/4 of the remaining mousse.

-Top the mousse with the third meringue disc, flat side up.

-Cover entire cake (top and sides) with remaining mousse.

-Freeze for two hours.

After freezing:
-Cut up the long strips of meringue that you made into small (1 -2 inch) pieces. Use your hands (like I did) or a serrated knife. You will use these to decorate the top and sides of the cake.

-Using a blow dryer, gently heat the cake top and sides in sections. (DON'T melt the cake!!) Add the meringue bits to the softened mousse, however you choose to add them.

Freeze for 2 hours, then wrap cake well and freeze overnight.

In the morning, remove from freezer and refrigerate until ready to serve.

(The cake can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or frozen and wrapped airtight for up to one month. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator.)

If you like this cake, vote for me for Culinates Death by Chocolate contest!!!