Saturday, January 30, 2010

Baking Class Project: How to Make Petit Fours

Some of the Final Projects - More Coming!

My winter study baking class ended this week, and I'm definitely going to miss spending 4 hours in the bakeshop every afternoon.  I could not be more proud of my students and their super impressive final projects though - they were great!  The bakeshop even offered them all jobs after watching their progress over the past month.  

Our final class  was at my house this week. Everyone brought their goodies to share and discuss with the class.  Everyone left in a sugar coma.  Here's a look, and you'll be seeing them in a lot more detail soon.

First up, Vanessa teaches us how to make petit fours.


 I have always loved petit fours—deliciously tender cakes enrobed in elegant fondant and beautifully
decorated (and miniature, which makes them even better)—but have never had the courage to attempt
them myself.  So, I decided to give it a shot.  

The cake is the determining factor in the success of petit fours, and I consulted several cookbooks for a good sponge cake recipe that would be very moist, or even close to a pound cake consistency (my favorite petit fours of all time are hardly spongy—much more buttery—and I was attempting to match
that texture).   

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Berry Galette (Crostata)

My favorite restaurant in the world is Al Forno in Providence.  I went there as often as I could afford when I was in graduate school, and I try to go every time I get back to Providence (it's so popular, I once went there on Valentine's Day and was told there was a 5-hour wait!). The chef/owners at Al Forno invented grilled pizza; they serve an amazing baked pasta in pink sauce; the corn fritters alone in August make the 3 hour drive worth it.  The menu changes daily according to what's in season, and you have to order dessert at the same time as you order your meal.  Their signature dessert is their crostata - strawberries in the spring, apples in the winter, berries in the summer, and if you're very very lucky, white peach. Yumm....  This galette (i.e. crostata) uses the Al Forno dough, with a berry and lemon curd filling. If you're feeling extra indulgent, serve the galette in a pool of creme anglaise.

You'll have lots of extra lemon curd, but it tastes great with scones or fruit; or fold in some whipped cream for a light lemon mousse.  It lasts a few weeks in the fridge, and several months in the freezer.

My favorite thing about the galette:  it looks great (think rustic!), and is so much easier than a traditional pie.  So if you're scared of making pie dough from scratch, try this - you still have to roll it out, but no struggles to fit the dough perfectly into the pie plate and no fancy crimping required.

This was another recipe we covered in baking class.  Stay tuned for the students' final projects, they did great work!  Baked alaska, an orange and white chocolate Charlotte, Pierre Herme's plaisir sucre, macarons, Opera Cake, and so much more!! Pictures and recipes coming soon.

Brushing excess flour off dough

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Baking Class: How to Make Choux Pastry

Done with cakes.  Next up in baking class, choux pastry:  cream puffs and eclairs.  Coming soon:  meringues, pies, and tarts.  And all sorts of spectacular final projects are being planned, wait til you see them!

A few things to keep in mind with choux pastry:

* Be sure to let the batter cool before you start adding eggs.  If it's too warm, your puffs will not puff, and you will be very sad!

* It's not clear how many eggs you'll need.  Try 4, but be ready to add more.  If you add too many, the batter will be too runny, and you won't be able to pipe it.  But you want to add as many as the batter can take to get the most rise in your pastry.  In our class, one group used only 4, one used 5 1/2.  As soon as the batter closes back in on itself fairly quickly when you swipe your finger through it, it's ready!

* All purpose flour is fine, but if you have bread flour, use it.  It browns a little more, and the extra protein allows the batter to hold a little more egg - so more puff!

* The batter's not particularly tasty, don't worry.  And, in fact, the pastry cream doesn't even smell very good when you finish it (very eggy). But it gets better after it chills (and especially after you add the flavoring). The final product is totally yummy.  (and I'm sure some people even like that eggy taste...)

Pastry Cream

2 cups milk
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
4 egg yolks
4 tablespoons butter (2 ounces), cut into several small pieces
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Dissolve cornstarch in 1/2 cup of the milk. Combine the remaining milk with the sugar in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat.

Beat the eggs and yolks into the cornstarch mixture. Slowly pour the milk/sugar mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly (you don't want to cook the eggs). Strain.

Return to heat (medium/high flame), and continue whisking until the cream thickens. After the cream comes to a boil (little blips, not an active boil), cook one more minute; keep whisking!

Remove from heat, and stir in the butter and vanilla and melted chocolate. Cool completely in the refrigerator or over an ice bath. The ice bath will cool the cream more quickly.

Flavor options:

Vanilla:  Leave as is.

Chocolate:  Stir in 3 ounces melted semisweet chocolate when you add the butter.

Coffee:  Dissolve 1 ½ teaspoons espresso powder in 1 ½ teaspoons boiling water; let cool.  Whisk into pastry cream with butter.

Almond:  Replace 1 teaspoon vanilla extract with 1 teaspoon almond extract.

Kate, Peter, Andrew piping away

Choux Pastry

3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour (all-purpose is fine, we used bread flour)
4-5 eggs (approximately)

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Combine water, butter, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. When the mixture starts to boil, remove from heat and stir in flour.

Return to heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixtures dries slightly and begins to leave the sides of the pan. Transfer to a bowl, and let stand for 5 minutes to cool; if using a stand mixer, beat for one minute to cool.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time; be sure to wait until each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. You might not need the entire fourth egg; you might need another half egg. The dough should be stiff enough to pipe; if you swipe your finger through the dough, it should close up on itself fairly quickly.

Immediately pipe the dough into the desired shape (try some cream puffs and some eclairs) and bake for about 10 minutes or until well-risen. Lower the oven temperature to 350°F and continue baking until completely dry. It should be completely firm when you take it out of the oven or it will collapse; usually it needs another 20 minutes in the oven after it starts to look done.

Baked puffs and eclairs

Chocolate Sauce

1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla (or Kahlua)

Bring the cream and sugar to a boil over medium heat.  Remove from heat and stir in corn syrup, chocolate, salt, and vanilla/Kahlua.  Let sit for one minute; stir until smooth. 

The Makings of A Chocolate Sauce

Fill and Decorate

When puffs/eclairs are completely cool, use the tip of a sharp knife to poke a hole in the bottom of each puff; for eclairs, poke one hole on each side of the bottom of the eclair.  Use a pastry bag to pipe the pastry cream.

Dip the top of each pastry into the chocolate sauce.  Drizzle with melted white chocolate, if desired.  (Heat the chocolate sauce in short intervals if it's already begun to set.)

Glazed puffs and eclairs

Sean's coffee cream puff

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Best Yellow Cake Ever! And the Best Mousse.

Does yellow cake seem a little boring to you?  I actually loved yellow cake with chocolate frosting and rainbow sprinkles when I was younger (hell, who am I kidding, it still sounds pretty great!), but I don't make a lot of yellow cakes these days.  Until now perhaps.  This cake is anything but boring.  My cakes domed, and I leveled the tops, and those bites of cake scraps were one of my most memorable cake-eating experiences.  So simple, so plain even, and yet so perfect... you really can stop looking for a perfect yellow cake recipe now.  I think I have.  It uses both butter and oil so you get the moistness that the oil gives (oil coats flour proteins better than butter, resulting in less gluten formation) and the flavor that makes butter so popular.  The cake flour adds tenderness, and helps keep the layers level (mine still domed, but I baked it in the bakeshop oven, not my own).  And there's whipped cream!  To add more moisture, flavor, and great texture.  Can't wait to go try whipped cream in my other favorite cakes... but that's for another day.

This Nutella mousse is also unforgettable.  It's tempting not to give out the recipe because then you'll see how easy it is to make, and the end result might not seem so impressive.  But it's too good not to share, so here it is. I use it over and over again; I was actually quite surprised to see it's not on my blog yet in fact.  It more than holds its own as a pie or tart filling; it's delightful between cake layers; it's delicious with nothing but a spoon.

So is this my new favorite cake?  Surprisingly, no.  I love each component separately, but they didn't quite become more than the sum of their parts when joined.  Maybe the yellow cake just doesn't have as much of a shelf life as some cakes, I admit I did not serve it on the day it was made.  I'll give it another try, serving immediately.  Now, don't let me dissuade you from making this cake; it is wonderful.  It's just not quite as amazing as I had expected, given the brilliance of the individual components.

Tomorrow, in baking class, we graduate from cakes.  You'll be seeing meringue, cream puffs, eclairs (oh how good this Nutella mousse would taste inside a fluffy crisp cream puff), pies, and tarts.  Happy baking!

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Baking Class for Winter Study! And a genoise recipe.

Williams College has this wonderful tradition called Winter Study.  Williams students are overloaded with courses, sports, extra-curricular commitments, and who knows what else during the fall and spring semesters.  During January, for 3 1/2 weeks, they get to relax - just a little.  There are academic courses offered for those who are so inclined, but a majority of students participate in the type of course that would not be offered as a regular college offering.  In the past I've taught a course called Pilates:  Fitness, Physiology, and Philosophy.  Other courses offered include Atheism, Wine Tasting, Contemporary Movie Criticism, Mathematics of the Rubik's Cube, The Philosophy of Chess, and so many more!  I am absolutely thrilled this year to be teaching a course called The Art & Science of Baking.

The dining services staff have been absolutely wonderful, and we've been allowed to use the College Bakeshop.  We're meeting for 36 hours (in 3 hour increments, though they often stretch longer) over the course of the month, baking up all sorts of yummy concoctions.  It's such a learning experience to bake in a professional kitchen, even though we're not touching most of the heavy machinery (I want the students to be able to bake in their own home kitchens when this is all over with afterall).  I've been planning this course for the past year, and it's so worth it.  I can't wait to do it again.

Though much of class time is spent with aprons on, hair pulled back, and flour flying, we've been reading about the science of baking in Shirley Corriher's Bakewise. It is completely fascinating, and I'm sure my copy will be covered with chocolate and dried batter soon, despite my best attempts to keep it clean.

Week 1:  Cakes

We baked butter cakes, oil cakes, combination cakes, a flourless chocolate cake, and a genoise cake.  They were covered with powdered sugar frosting (aka American Buttercream), chocolate frosting, chocolate ganache, cream cheese frosting, and buttercream frosting.

Peanut Butter Cake with Chocolate-Peanut Butter Ganache and Cream Cheese Frosting

Kate & Aom's peanut butter cake

Peter & Cake

Yellow cake with Raspberry Jam & Chocolate Ganache
 (Recipe coming soon)

Genoise with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Rob and Jared and their almond scented genoise with chocolate buttercream

Anna & Christina's chocolate and peppermint genoise roulade

Sean, Andrew, and JC and their perfect creamy buttercream 
(which turned out way better than mine!)

For the Genoise Cake:  (from Shirley Corriher)

6 large eggs
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
3/4 cup cake flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Spray a 10" x 15" jelly pan or a 9" round pan with baking spray; line with parchment paper; spray again.

Preheat the oven to 400F; set an oven rack in the middle of the oven.

Set a medium saucepan of water on the stove, with about 2-3" of water; bring to a boil.  Keep at a simmer.

Whisk the eggs, yolks, salt, and 1/2 cup sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Place over the simmering water (the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl).  Whisk constantly for about a minute - you just want to heat the mixture to lukewarm - not hot.  If you heat it too long, the cake will be dry.

Remove from heat, and attach the bowl to the stand mixer.  Beat on medium-high with the whisk attachment until the mixture is cool (the outside of the bowl should be completely cool) and has tripled in volume. This will take several minutes.

While that's whipping, whisk together the cake flour, cornstarch, cocoa, and 1 tablespoon sugar in a dry bowl until the cocoa is full incorporated.

When the egg batter is ready, sift about 1/3 of the flour mixture over the batter, and gently fold it in with a rubber spatula.  Repeat two more times.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top with an offset spatula.  Bake for about 10-12 minutes.  It will be firm to the touch and just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.  Don't overbake or it will be dry.

Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then flip onto a piece of parchment paper on a cooling rack.  

Genoise cakes can often be dry.  I like to pour a little flavored simple syrup over the cake before frosting.  We used almond extract, frangelico, or peppermint extract to flavor the syrup.

Chocolate Buttercream

4 large egg whites (or 4.5 ounces egg whites)
1 cup sugar
3 sticks butter, softened
2 1/2 tablespoons Frangelico or Kahlua or Amaretto (or water)
4 ounces semi-sweet or bitter-sweet chocolate, melted (do not use chips)
1 teaspoon vanilla (or other) extract

Whisk the egg white and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in another heat proof large bowl if using a hand mixer).  Set the bowl over simmering water, and whisk constantly until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot (if you touch the whites, you'll need to immediately remove your finger).  Remove from heat, and attach the bowl to your stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment.  Beat on medium until the bowl is room temperature (it should feel like it was never on the pan of simmering water).  This will take 5-10 minutes or so.

While you're waiting, dissolve the espresso powder (if using) in the liqueur (or water if you don't want to use alcohol).

Remove the whisk attachment, and put on the paddle (or my favorite, the beater blade).  Be sure that your butter is softened (you can microwave it just a little, or squeeze it with your hands if it's already room temperature).  On medium speed, add the butter, and beat until smooth.  This will take about 3-5 minutes.  Beat in the liqueur/coffee mixture and the extract, then the melted chocolate.

You really want your meringue cooled completely and your butter soft - this will speed up the beating process, and keep your buttercream from breaking.  If it does break (appear curdled), don't throw it out! It's not ruined. If it's curdled before you add the chocolate, the warmth of the melted chocolate may fix it.  Add the chocolate while still somewhat warm, in a few additions, if this is the case.

The frosting should be very light and fluffy now.  Add food coloring if desired.


Chocolate:  Omit coffee from recipe.

Vanilla (plain):  Omit espresso powder and chocolate from recipe.  Add 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

Coffee:  Omit chocolate from recipe.

Almond:  Replace vanilla extract with almond extract.  Use Amaretto for the liqueur.

For a chocolate genoise and a mocha buttercream recipe, go here.

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Mousse Filling and Chocolate Frosting

Jen and her chocolate cake layer

Chocolate frosting (recipe here)

I don't have pictures of the final products for this one - let's just say (and I've said it before), be sure your cake is completely cool (and preferably even chilled) before frosting!  For more ideas of what to do with this versatile chocolate cake, go here or here.

Vanessa, Jen; Aom, Kate

Anna & Christina

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year!

Hmmm, I'm not really a New Year's Resolutions kind of girl.  Don't think I've ever written down a list of resolutions, and the only one I usually ever make, even in my head, is to drop those last 5 pounds.  But I do feel like I'm in something of a transition period (I got tenure just over a year ago which gives me more freedom academically, I'm on sabbatical next fall which will give me a lot more free time, and I'm in the midst of starting my home-based baking business), so I guess I'm feeling a bit more contemplative than normal.

Here's a recap of some of my food-related highlights of 2009.

Wishing you a wonderful 2010!

January 2009:  Caramel Cake with Brown Butter Frosting Filling and Chocolate Glaze

Dinner Party - January 2009

March 2009:  My Version of Pierre Herme's Concorde with Chocolate Meringue and Nutella Mousse

April 2009:  My Birthday, Trip to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA)

Dessert at the Apple Pie Bakery Cafe at the CIA

April 2009:  More birthday desserts:  Hazelnut Dacquoise topped with a layer of milk chocolate crunch, topped with chocolate mousse, lemon mousse, more chocolate mousse, then a chocolate ganache glaze

July 2009:  Paris and Italy

Tomato Parmesan Risotto at the Rose Bakery in Paris

Macchiato at Platti in Turin

Spaghetti Pomodoro in Turin - No picture, but one of the best pasta dishes I've ever eaten

August 2009:  Pastry Course at the Institute for Culinary Education (ICE)

Mille Feuille with Chocolate Pastry Cream  (See more pics here, here, and here)

October 2009:  Brioche and Croissant Course at the ICE (still haven't posted about this yet, but I will!)

Brioche a Tete and Braided Brioche Round

Pain au Chocolat

December 2009:  Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake

I've been making versions of this for almost 5 years now, but it will always be one of my favorites.

December 2009:  Buche de Noel (and the Cutest Cookies I've ever made)


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