Sunday, August 31, 2008

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Daring Bakers: Éclairs!

This month has been a perfect example of why I love being a part of the Daring Bakers. They have the tendency to pick recipes that sound and look fancy; recipes that look way too involved to even want to attempt to make them (just look at the Filbert Gateau and L'Opera cake). Then they also have a tendency to chose recipes that are so well known that you have never even considered trying to make at home because you can just as easily go to the store to pick some up (Danish Braid and this month's Éclairs). It's this switch up of the unknown and known that makes being a Daring Baker so much fun. You get the opportunity to make these incredibly beautiful desserts while at the same time you get to find out that they really aren't as hard as you thought they would be.

The Éclair is a dessert that I love to eat, but for all the times that I have eaten one I have never once asked myself how it was made. I think I was too caught up in the deliciousness of dough and cream and chocolate to ever wonder how and when these three elements came together to produce dessert greatness. But this month's challenge dared me to use something other than the-hand-to-mouth-rubbing-belly-saying-mmmm motion and required me to really break down the recipe and throw my senses into eclairs in a way I never had before. It was no easy task. I still managed to eat a little bit of everything as I was making it. It is amazing how much the dough, cream, and chocolate taste separately. I did diverge a little from the recipe selected by MeetaK and Tony Tahhan by using a vanilla bean pastry cream instead of a chocolate. I felt that a vanilla pastry cream would sit better with the main eater in my household and it did. Alex said he doesn't think he would have liked the eclairs as much as he did if they had a chocolate filling.

I definitely recommend this dessert to someone who has a few hours to spare and wants to make something that will really impress people. I don't think many people ever expect anyone to make Éclairs from scratch. Thank you Meeta and Tony for a great selection and don'f forget to the check the Kitchen and the BlogRoll for more Daring Bakers goodness.

And now the recipe selected by Tony and Meeta....

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 bubbles.
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 boil.
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.
2) This sauce is also great for cakes, ice-cream and tarts.

I made 3 sizes.

Close-up of goodness.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

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What a House.

This past weekend we ventured out to Harvard Square. I like Harvard Square more after each visit. There is something about how lively and eclectic the area is that really draws me in. I think it's that it reminds me of home and, specifically, Coconut Grove. You should check it out the next time you go to Miami :)

Anyway, we decided to check out The Red House. We had been intrigued with this restaurant since the time we went to Redline. It looks so incredibly pretty and home-y and it literally is a red house. Don't be fooled by how small it is on the outside because the restaurant is huge. If you go, ask to be seated in the back area because there is a beautiful glass dome overhead that makes you feel like you are eating under the stars.

For the appetizer we attempted to split the Hoisin Glazed Duck Breast. I say attempted because I was overcome with omnivore's remorse and I couldn't eat the duck. I love to watch the ducks in the Public Garden and after one bite I couldn't bring myself to eat the poor little duck. But Alex ate it all and enjoyed the juiciness of the duck. The duck breast had a hint of herb flavoring and the peppercorn sauce was sweeter than expected.

I went out of my comfort zone and ordered the Lobster Risotto. You see, I am not a fan of risotto. Alex loves the stuff, while I look the other way. Nothing else on the menu really called out to me, so I decided to give the risotto a shot. It had lobster in it after all, so it had to be good. And it was. I loaded the dish up with fresh parmesan cheese and yum! The risotto was sticky, creamy, tender, and soaked in the flavors of the lobster.

Alex ordered the Grilled Angus Sirloin. The steak came topped with sweet roasted peppers and fennel (Alex had no clue what the green thing was on his dish) and it was served with what can best be described as cous cous. We couldn't figure out what the side dish was but it tasted like it had some combination of pasta and rice in it. Alex was enamored with the steak. He said it was a very tender steak and he was surprised with how much he liked the pepper topping.

For dessert I had the homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream and it was delightful! The mint taste was mild and the ice cream was incredibly creamy and smooth. I was tempted to ask for the recipe, but figured that they wouldn't be willing to share something so good.

The atmosphere of the restaurant is perfect for a night out with the family or a romantic night out with your significant other. This restaurant was very attentive to details: from the colorful menus that looked handmade to the napkins with their logo. Because the restaurant looked like something straight out of Newport, RI we were expecting more of a Contemporary American flair to the food, but instead the food had hints of the Mediterranean. It wasn't a bad thing, just not what we were expecting.

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Restaurant Week Treat

For restaurant week we went to The Palm. We had been wanting to go to The Palm for a while because their menu looks great and we pass by the restaurant every week as we walk through Copley. But we never went because of the price-seafood dishes are in the $30s and steak dishes are $40 and upward. When you are two students with negative income (loans) you can't have the luxury of eating at pricey restaurants. So when we saw that The Palm was participating in Restaurant Week we figured this was our chance to see if they were worth the price tag. Overall the food was delicious and our only complaint was the presentation of the food. I don't know if it was because the restaurant was very busy with Restaurant Week diners, but the presentation wasn't anything that made you say, "wow that's nice." The effort was lacking in going that extra step and it was just a tad bit disappointing.

The dinner started with an assortment of breads. They gave us a regular white bread and a cranberry bread that was wonderful.

For the appetizer I had a caesar salad. It was a good salad and just what you would expect out of a good salad: crispy lettuce, even coverage of dressing, and crunchy croutons.

Alex ordered the lobster bisque. The soup did not taste too fishy, which was great because Alex doesn't like seafood. Go figure...he'd rather have something from the sea than a green, leafy vegetable.

Being the steak lover that he is, Alex ordered the twin filets with lobster mashed potatoes (I ate the lobster chunks. Yum!). The steak was tender and juicy and tasted great with the sauce and fried onion (see below). The mashed potatoes were were light, airy, and buttery.

Being the seafood lover that I am, I ordered the sole. The fish was fantastic. It was incredibly soft and melted in my mouth. The best part about this dish was that it was stuffed with a heaping serving of crab meat. The crab meat and the sole were such a perfect pairing because the delicate taste of the fish was accentuated by the stronger taste of the crab meat.

The side dish was family style and definitely enough to feed the two of us. It was thin slices of fried onion and crispy slices of potato. The fried onions were perfect; very crispy on the outside and soft, sweet onion on the inside. The potatoes were great as well because of how natural and grease-free they tasted.

We both ordered the chocolate cake for dessert. The cake was a faux molten cake because it was a mini bundt cake filled with a very rich chocolate fudge. We found the cake to be tasty, moist, and just plain choclate-y (great description, huh?).

The restaurant itself is a funny who's who as you try to figure out who all the faces are on the walls. I actually thought that the faces on the wall were a great way to eliminate the stuffiness you sometimes feel when at steakhouse.

Monday, August 25, 2008

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TWD: Ice Cream Torte

It has been too long since my last TWD post. With everything going on and how quickly my free time has diminished, I've had to become a little pickier with what weeks I participate. I will still be doing the minimum two weeks a month, but I won't be able to bake as much as I used to. Sucks. Big time. I am too busy to even think about my baking withdrawal :(

This week Amy of Food, Family and Fun
picked Dorie's Chocolate-Banded Ice Cream Torte.
I ended up using cookie dough ice cream because what's better than cookie dough, vanilla ice cream, and chocolate? This was a fun recipe to make and Alex really enjoyed it. Getting the chocolate torte made was the easy part. The hard part was creating the perfect layers and waiting enough time between layers. Actually, the hard part was all my fault. I tried to make this in a cup and had trouble removing the dessert from the cup and then my ice cream was so soft that it didn't harden up as much as I wanted. Desserts can't always be perfect....

Looks kind of good.

Not smooth at all.

What a mess!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

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Obsession of the Week

Where has time gone?! I have been planning my friend, Alex's ("Girl Alex") shower for what feels like forever. It didn't really occur to me that her shower was a little over a month away, so when she said something about the shower on Friday I kind of started freaking out. It finally hit me that I have to get on the ball with the planning since all I had done was secure the shower location. So now the fire has been lit and I have spent the day working on invites. You'll have to wait to see them because they won't be going out for another week or so and Girl Alex has no idea what the theme of her shower is. I don't want to ruin anything especially since she does check the blog. But working on stuff for the shower this past weekend has gotten me very excited for her wedding. I cannot wait to be the matron of honor in her wedding and, more than anything, I cannot wait for the roles to be switched (she was my maid of honor) and to see how beautiful of a bride she will be.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

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Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Carole Bloom's The Essential Baker is quickly becoming my new favorite book. I have yet to try a recipe that I didn't like. I was in the mood to bake something with sour cream because we had a huge tub full of sour cream that needed using up. I decided to make Sour Cream Cofffee Cake and what a great decision that was. The cake rose to a beautiful golden color thanks to the cinnamon-sugar topping and it tasted incredibly moist and fluffy. I have not been able to keep my hands off of this cake.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Source: Carole Bloom's The Essential Baker

6 oz (12 Tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 1/2-inch round springform cake pan.

Place the butter in a large bowl and beat on medium speed until it's fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Add the sugar to the butter and cream together.

Add the eggs one at a time, stopping to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl after each addition.

Add the sour cream and vanilla to the butter mixture and blend together thoroughly.

Sift together the flour and baking powder. Add the salt and toss together to blend.

Add the dry ingredient to the butter mixture in 3 stages, blending thoroughly after each.

1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped (I omitted)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and toss together to blend thoroughly.

Transfer half of the batter to the prepared pan. The batter is very thick, so use a rubber spatula to spread it evenly into the pan.

Sprinkle half of the topping over the batter in the pan.

Transfer the remaining batter to the pan and spread it evenly over the topping. Sprinkle the remaining topping over the batter.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it.

Remove the pan from the oven and cool on a rack. Remove the cake from the pan and slice into serving pieces.

I couldn't wait to take a picture.

All sliced up.

A slice for you :)

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Nestle, Delicious.

One of my favorite chocolate chip cookies recipe is the Nestle Toll House one. This is one of my go-to recipes for chocolate chip cookies because I always have the ingredients for them and because they are so undeniably and unquestionably delicious. They have the crispy edges and chewy centers that I love so much in cookies and they are so very delicious. I don't add the nuts because nuts aren't something I'm crazy about in my chocolate chip cookies. These cookies never last in our house because of how delicious they are and they are something I make when I want to make something that I know will come out delicious. Do you get it yet? These cookies are delicious!! You should try them ;-)

Raw View.

Top View.

Side View.

Inside View.
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Obsession of the Week

This week was orientation week for school. I can't believe I start school again. Orientation was great and very helpful, but it left me more scared than I ever thought I could be. I felt like I was starting middle school again and it didn't help that I was told on multiple occasions that law school was very similar to middle school and high school. The first day of middle school was obviously one of the most traumatic days of my life because I can still vividly remember that day. My amazing aunt, Esther, dropped me off and I wore a dress. I spent the day lost and confused and searching for kind faces. I figure that tomorrow will be similar. I won't be going in a dress (the days of dressing up are long gone), but I will have a book bag on that's so big that it looks like I'm going to tip over. Tomorrow will definitely be better than that first day of middle school was because I will be going to my first day of classes with my brand new MacBook. I had to upgrade from my PowerBook G4 because it was too old (I bought it in 2003) and it wouldn't have been able to meet my needs as I start on this new scholastic adventure. I was incredibly sad because that laptop was practically an appendage for 5+ years and was in excellent condition. But at least now I will be technologically up to date according to my school's standards and Alex gets to make the transition from PC to Macs since he has inherited my old PowerBook. The MacBook has made me love Macs more and I think everyone should go and buy a new Mac and discover its greatness :)


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

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Craving Quest, Part 2

This is part 2 of my quest to make a sweet that will make Alex a satisfied and happily plump man. This dessert also incorporates peanut butter and chocolate but in a very different way from the brownies I made earlier. I think I picked this dessert more for myself than for Alex. It has nothing to do with taste either, I just really like making tarts. This tart is similar to the torte I made a few months ago for Tuesdays With Dorie, but it is so much more approachable than the TWD one. The crust is easy to make, the filling is light and smooth, and the whole thing comes together beautifully. I actually liked this recipe and found it to be quite delicious (I did not like the TWD one). What really did me in with this dessert was that the peanut butter taste wasn't the strongest flavor; the chocolate pastry, peanut butter filling, and chocolate ganache perfectly balanced each other out to create a taste that was unique and complimentary. Now I just have to sit and wait til Alex gets home so that I can find out if either of the desserts I made today are good enough to get rid of his ultra-specific sweet tooth.

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Tartlets

Source: Carole Bloom's The Essential Baker
Makes 4 tarlets or eight 2 1/2-inch round tartlets

Cocoa Pastry Dough
1 /4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/8 tsp salt
4 oz (8 Tbsp) unsalted butter, chilled
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

In the bowl of a food processor combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, and salt. Pulse briefly to blend.

Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the flour mixture. Pulse until the butter is cut into very tiny pieces, about 30 seconds. The texture should be sandy with tiny lumps throughout.

Use a fork to beat the egg yolk with the vanilla in a small bowl. Add to the flour mixture and process until the dough wraps itself around the blade, about 1 minute.

Turn the pastry dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap. Shape into a flat disk and wrap tightly in two layers of plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator until firm, at least 2 hours.

Let it stand at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before rolling to become more pliable. On a smooth, flat surface roll out the dough between sheets of lightly floured parchment paper to a large round, about 1/4 inch think. Remove the top sheet of paper and use a round cutter to cut out the circles of the pastry dough. Carefully peel the circles off the other piece of paper. Gather together the dough scraps, reroll, and cut out remaining circles. Fit the circle of pastry dough into the tart pan and trim off excess dough at the top of the pan with your fingertips. Transfer the pans to a baking sheet and chill in the freezer for 30 minutes.

In an oven preheated to 375 degrees, bake the tarts for 10 minutes. If the bottom of the pastry shell puffs up, gently pierce them in a few places with a fork to release the air. Bake for another 10-12 minutes, until set. Remove from oven and transfer the tarts to a rack to cool completely.

I put the filling in by mistake before baking the crusts. Oops!

Peanut Butter Filling
1/2 cup natural-style chunky peanut butter, at room temperature
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

Place the peanut butter and cream cheese in a large bowl and beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Add the sugar to the peanut butter mixture and cream together well.

Please the heavy cream in a medium mixing bowl and whip on medium speed until frothy. Add the vanilla and continue to whip on medium speed until it holds soft peaks. Fold the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture in 3 stages, blending thoroughly.

Fill each tart with the filling and use the back of a damp spoon to smooth down any points on the top of the filling. Chill the tarts in the freezer for 30 minutes, until the filling is set.

Chocolate Ganache Topping
4 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Place the chocolate in a large bowl.

Place the cream in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Pour the cream over the chopped chocolate and let it stand for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir together with a rubber spatula until very smooth. Add the vanilla and stir well to blend.

Using a spoon, cover the top of each tartlet with the ganache.

All done!


Nice layers.

I love this picture.