Thursday, January 29, 2009

Terrific Tuiles! Another Daring Bakers Challenge!


I love the Daring Bakers Challenges!  I have made many fancy desserts in the past, but this group is introducing me to baking I have not attempted before.  That’s because I thought the recipes were daunting and beyond the capabilities of my domestic kitchen.   Thanks to the founders, Lisa and Ivonne for creating this group and for keeping us in line!  You rock! 

I was at first hesitant about making tuiles because they look so delicate and finicky.  My friend, Chantal, who has made every fancy culinary treat under the sun, convinced me that there was nothing to them.  Easy for you to say, my Belgian princess -  you were raised on Godiva chocolates, truffles and Hermes scarves!

Tuiles (or cornets) are traditionally thin, crispy almond cookies that are molded over a rolling pin or mold while still hot.  Once cooled, the tuiles resembled the curved French roofing tiles for which they are named. 

This month's challenge is brought to us by Karen of Bake My Day and Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte aka Kochtopf.
They have chosen Tuiles from The Chocolate Book by Angélique Schmeink and Nougatine and Chocolate Tuiles from Michel Roux.

After sifting through the eight page DB document, I decided that I was going to make the savory tuiles from Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook.  Once the butter softened up a little, the batter was sooo easy to make - it took just a few minutes.  I decided on an accompaniment of shrimp  with a light sour cream filling.   We were told to think light, in opposition to the extravagant Yule Log we baked in December (if you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean!).


Here are the recipes:

Savory Tuiles/Cornets
From Thomas Keller "the French Laundry Cookbook" 

My changes are in italics

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons (65 grams/2.1/4 ounces) all purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt (= 2/3 teaspoon table salt) I would use less, about 1/2 teaspoon
8 tablespoons (114 grams/4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened but still cool to the touch
2 large egg whites, cold
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk the softened butter until it is completely smooth and mayonnaise-like in texture. Using a stiff spatula or spoon, beat the egg whites into the dry ingredients until completely incorporated and smooth. Whisk in the softened butter by thirds, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary and whisking until the batter is creamy and without any lumps. Transfer the batter to a smaller container, as it will be easier to work with.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Make a 4-inch hollow circular stencil (I used the cardboard back of a notepad and cut a 4.5” circle). Place Silpat on the counter (it is easier to work on the Silpat before it is put on the sheet pan). Place the stencil in one corner of the sheet and, holding the stencil flat against the Silpat, scoop some of the batter onto the back of an offset spatula and spread it in an even layer over the stencil. Then run the spatula over the entire stencil to remove any excess batter. After baking the first batch of tuiles/cornets, you will be able to judge the correct thickness. You may need a little more or less batter to adjust the thickness of the tuiles/cornets.

I was able to fit 3 tuiles (which measured 4.5” in diameter each) on a 11x17 silpat:


There should not be any holes in the batter. Lift the stencil and repeat the process to make as many rounds as you have molds or to fill the Silpat, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between the cornets.  Sprinkle each tuile/cornet with a pinch of black sesame seeds. 
Place the Silpat on a heavy baking sheet and bake for 4 to 6 minutes, or until the batter is set and you see it rippling from the heat. The tuiles/cornets may have browned in some areas, but they will not be evenly browned at this point.
Open the oven door and place the baking sheet on the door.  This will help keep the tuiles/cornets warm as you roll them and prevent them from becoming too stiff to roll. Flip a tuile/cornet over on the sheet pan, sesame seed side down and place 4-1/2 inch tuile/cornet mold at the bottom of the round. If you are right-handed, you will want the pointed end on your left and the open end on your right. The tip of the mold should touch the lower left edge (at about 7 o'clock on a clock face) of the cornet.
Fold the bottom of the cornet and around the mold; it should remain on the sheet pan as you roll. Leave the cornet wrapped around the mold and continue to roll the cornets around molds; as you proceed, arrange the rolled cornets, seams side down, on the sheet pan so they lean against each other, to prevent from rolling. 

I carefully lifted each tuile and draped it over an aluminum mold similar to a cupcake mold turned upside down.   This is the result when cooled:


When all the tuiles/cornets are rolled or shaped, return them to the oven shelf, close the door, and bake for an additional 3 to 4 minutes to set the seams and color the cornets a golden brown. If the color is uneven, stand the cornets on end for a minute or so more, until the color is even. Remove the cornets from the oven and allow to cool just slightly, 30 seconds or so.
Gently remove the tuiles/cornets from the molds and cool for several minutes on paper towels. Remove the Silpat from the baking sheet, wipe the excess butter from it, and allow it to cool down before spreading the next batch. Store the tuiles/cornets for up to 2 days (for maximum flavor) in an airtight container.

And here’s my recipe for the filling:

Sautéed Shrimp with Sour Cream Wasabi Mousse

1/3 cup whipping cream

1/3 cup light sour cream

1 teaspoon wasabi paste (green Japanese horseradish in a tube)

1 tablespoon finely chopped green onion (plus a little more for garnish)

1 tablespoon finely chopped red pepper (plus a little more for garnish)

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

10 jumbo shrimp, deveined, tails intact.

Salt, pepper, chili powder, olive oil

For the mousse:  Whip cream until it starts to hold its shape.  Add sour cream, wasabi and whip until thick and well-blended.  Fold in green onion, red pepper and black pepper.   Place in a piping bag fitted with a large tip (or just cut the end off the bag) and refrigerate until ready to fill the tuiles.

For the shrimp: Dry shrimp and sprinkle with salt, pepper and chili powder to taste.  Sauté in a little olive oil until cooked.  Cool slightly.

To assemble, place cooled tuiles on a serving plate.  Pipe about 2 tablespoons or so in each tuile.  Place shrimp on the edge of mousse and garnish with chopped green onion and chopped red pepper.

Then, impress your guests, including Chantal! I wish you were here to try them!


Now that I’m a tool for tuiles, I’m going to try the sweet versions as well and report back to you!


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

TWD Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread ‘volcanoes’ and the John Legend concert.


It’s time for another TWD dessert, but firstJohn Legend charmed the pants off of me at the Verizon Theatre on Saturday night!  He is a young R&B/Soul artist with an angelic face and a distinctive voice, warm one minute, and raw the next.  Romantic, sexy and very elegant (no excessive Bling!), he is a refreshing contrast to the other new young artists (Kanye West could use a lesson on humility and grace from him).  

Well-spoken and highly communicative, Legend knocked all sense out of a giddy Aggie sophomore sitting next to me and the rest of the well-dressed audience (swagga sistuh!).  Legend’s official site allowed me to link directly to his videos (the coolest for computer challenged moi!)  Listen here:


And here:

This week’s recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s book, Baking, From My Home To Yours, was chosen by Heather of Sherry Trifle.  The recipe was pretty straight forward and gained respect from me from the outset because one of the ingredients is my favorite - buttermilk (think moist, moist, moist).  I omitted the stem ginger and coffee and decided to make individual portions (for easier distribution to the neighbors!).  I finished each with a drizzle of chocolate sauce, a dollop of whipped cream and a chunk of crystallized ginger.  All lined up, they reminded me of erupting volcanoes!  I had the cutest, sweetest and most elegant model of the Pacific Rim of Fire on my kitchen counter!   Thanks Heather!



Monday, January 26, 2009

Garbanzo Bean Salad with Avocado and a surprise winter harvest!

  chickpea salad

I love our Gulf Cost winters!   We have our fair share of cold snaps during the season, but generally it’s a mild and pleasant affair with lots of uplifting sunshine.  This is what I found a couple of days ago in the garden: 

winter cherry tomatoes1

It’s a vine that went to seed with ripening cherry tomatoes on it!  It’s not exactly an anomaly because we are lucky to have a cool growing season.   Husbie and I have been talking about planting a garden for the cool season when the summer garden begins to fade, but so far it’s only been a conversation piece.  Our options would be endless: arugula, collard greens, lettuce, cabbage, Brussel sprouts and Swiss chard. 

Our Meyer lemon tree has yielded a very respectable crop this year.  A Meyer lemon is a cross between a lemon and an orange, and has a thin skin.  It is sweeter than the common lemon and yields a lot of juice.   My favorite way to enjoy them (when I’m not using them in a dessert!) is to cut half a lemon into quarters, squeeze the mellow juice in a glass of chilled water, and throw the skins in as well.  When I’ve drunk the water, I eat the skins!  It freshens my palate and sends the roughage where it’s needed!

meyer lemons

But when I saw the peppers turning red there was no question I knew what I was going to make with them.


I have been craving my Garbanzo Bean (chick pea) Salad for a few days now.  I got involved baking so many desserts for the holidays, and with this baking group and that baking group, that I am in need of some healthy fare.  Because this recipe uses a variety of raw ingredients, it is a very healthy choice.  The enzymes in the peppers, onions, avocado and other vegetables are eaten in their fresh, raw state, giving the digestive system and body all of their nutrients. 

I am making a concerted effort to decrease the canned goods in my pantry so I used dried garbanzo beans and rehydrated them by soaking them overnight and boiling them on a medium heat for about 45 minutes or until tender. 

Garbanzo Bean Salad with Avocado

1 cup dried garbanzo beans (chick peas), soaked in water for several hours or overnight.  Drain and replenish water.  Cook on medium heat for about 45 minutes until tender.  Drain, and while still warm, toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil OR 1 can garbanzo beans (chick peas), drained and rinsed.

1/2 to 1 cup red pepper, diced

1 cucumber, diced

1/2 cup red onion, finely diced

2 scallions (green onions), finely sliced crosswise

1 jalapeno, diced

a generous handful of cilantro or parsley, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons fruity salad dressing of your choice (I used maple fig), or 2 tablespoons fruit juice.

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 avocados, halved, seed removed

To a large bowl, toss together the garbanzo beans, red pepper, cucumber, red onion, scallions, jalapeno, cilantro or parsley. 

garbanzo salad1

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, salad dressing, ground pepper and salt.  Add to garbanzo bean mix and toss well.  Adjust seasonings, if necessary.  Let stand for an hour or two so that the flavors can marry, or chill if eating later.

When ready to serve, scoop the avocado pulp from its skin.  You can slice it or leave it in one piece.  Place on serving plate and surround with Garbanzo Bean Salad.

Serves 4.

garbanzo salad, detail


Avocado on Foodista

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

TWD Berry Surprise Cake and an Inauguration!


This is a short post today because I’ve been distracted by the Inauguration. Who was Michelle Obama wearing?  A sparkling Isabel Toledo creation in my favorite color – yellow!   We have a new President and first family and I wish them well. 

Today’s Tuesdays With Dorie recipe, Berry Surprise Cake from Dorie Greenspan’s book Baking, From My Home To Yours, was chosen by Mary Ann of Meet Me in the Kitchen.  My DSN (dearest sweetest neighbor) Carolina and I decided to combine our efforts for this one, and we baked two smaller cakes using only one recipe.  She did the math using the well-known kitchen formula: pie are squared! and the 5” and 6.5” round pans combined  were close enough in area to the specified 8” pan.

We had heard from other TWD bakers about the cake falling in the middle.  To prevent this we added 2 tablespoons of meringue powder with the flour.  It’s a new nifty tip for me and our cakes held their height quite well once they cooled.


A hole was cut out in the centre and we liberally doused it with simple syrup spiked with cherry liqueur.  The cream cheese filling was not very sweet, but was complemented by the sweet whipped cream topping.  Carolina was lucky to find decent raspberries and blueberries at this time of year and they added to the elegant presentation.  This cake would make any occasion special.  Try it!



Here’s a photo I entered in the CLICK! The Photo Event 

for January, 2009.  The theme is RED!

Berry Surprise!



Monday, January 19, 2009

Shuna’s Shortbread and a Marathon


I seriously irritated my vocal chords yesterday whilst cheering for my friends during the Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Half Marathon.  My neighbor, Alma brought cowbells (her husband, John and sixteen-year-old son, Joey ran), and together we rattled and yelled at the top of our voices as the brave runners went by.  You see, I’m the world’s best cheerleader when it comes to marathons and I have a lot of admiration for people who jog for fitness, but personally, I think there’s an element of craziness involved in running a marathon.  Seriously, how sane can you be if  you’re willing to torture your mind and body by pounding the pavement for 26.2 miles!  Alma lost count of the times I mentioned the word ‘crazy’ at around 30!

Now the half marathon I can handle with a combination of fast walking and light running.  My dear friend, Dorota finished the half marathon yesterday doing just that, and she seemed much less the worse for wear afterwards.  One of her favorite cookies is shortbread, and I baked a batch especially for her and the crazy (there I go again!) runners to enjoy on marathon day.  I’m sharing the recipe below.

Sincerely now, many cheers to my friends who ran and beat the heat (the temperature reached 70F).   It is quite an accomplishment.  I was very touched at the finish line watching Joey and John run side  by side, a blind young man with his leader, fathers lifting their kids and running to the end (I’m choking up as I write) and many participants limping and grimacing all the way.  I hope you have an easy recovery and I’ll definitely be there next year to cheer you on!


Now for the shortbread:  I have been eyeing Shuna Fish Lydon’s recipe for a while.  Ms. Lydon is an accomplished chef and baker and is presently working in London.  I was introduced to her work during a Daring Bakers Challenge and my results of her delicious Caramel Cake recipe are on another website.  I plan to re-publish the post here on my very own blog in the near future, so stay tuned if you have not seen it yet!

Back to the shortbread:  Ms. Lydon recommends the dough be frozen or refrigerated before being baked and to look for a cookie that is uniformly baked (the color will be the same throughout).

Shortbread Cookies (My minor changes are in parentheses)

- Makes a baker’s dozen (I was able to bake 24 cookies)


8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature

4 1/2 ounces sugar (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon)

3/4 teaspoons kosher salt

Dash of vanilla extract

9 ounces all-purpose flour (I used 2 cups, a little more than 9 ounces)

2 teaspoons minced herbs (I didn’t add the herbs but I’ll try it next time)

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice; or 1/2 a vanilla bean, scraped; or 1 tablespoon finely ground toasted hazelnuts; or 1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds (I added about 2 tablespoons toasted, ground almonds)

1. Cream butter until smooth, add sugar and salt and cream a bit further, but do not beat ferociously as you do not want to incorporate air. Mix in all additions, one at a time, and fold in the flour gently but well.

2. Wrap dough as a flat disc and refrigerate for 2 hours.

3. You may do any number of things with this shortbread. I like to roll it out (sheet) between two pieces of parchment so as to get an even cookie without adding any more flour, which will make this cookie tough. If you sheet the dough, you may use any shape cutter. Shortbread can also be re-sheeted this way until you have no more dough.

4. You may also roll it in a log and chill or freeze log, baking only what you need when inspiration strikes you. If you go the log route, you may want to roll log in raw or turbinado sugar and then slice. Slice rounds no thicker than 1/2 inch.

5. Preheat oven to 300°F or 150°C.

6. Place cookies on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet.  If the bottom of your oven runs hot, double pan to ensure safety of your cookies. Set first timer for 15 minutes, at which time turn pan around to get an even bake. Set second timer for 8 to 12 minutes, but depending on your oven they may need a little more time.

7. With shortbread it is very important that a low and slow bake takes place and that the cookie is evenly dark golden. Color is flavor here. 

8. Shortbread will keep two days at room temperature, although they are best eaten the day they are baked.


The cookies passed the test of approval by all who savored them.  Buttery and rich, this recipe is a keeper!


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Dorie’s delectable Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins!


I do not have much time to write tonight, but I did manage to make Dorie’s moist and delectable corn muffins this morning. Move over Aunt Jemima – make way for these tasty delights! If you have not made corn muffins from scratch yet – this is an easy recipe to begin with.

The inclusion of buttermilk in the recipe immediately won me over! I hail from a culture where buttermilk and yogurt are consumed on a daily basis and are credited with longevity (I’m hoping for the same!). When used in baking, they add lots of moisture and sometimes a little tang. Pair buttermilk or yogurt with hot corn ‘mush’ or polenta and, in my humble opinion, you have a wholesome breakfast that beats any over processed cereal from a box.

I was lucky enough to pick several small red bell peppers from our garden less than a week ago (such are the perks of mild Houston winters). I chopped a couple up and they added beautiful color and flavor to the muffins. I used frozen corn and added 3 more tablespoons to the batter. I used only 1 tablespoon of sugar because I like my savory muffins less sweet. In the absence of a fresh jalapeno, I chopped up some pickled slices from the relish shelf in the refrigerator. They provided just the right amount of heat. Cilantro is my favorite herb, so I jacked up the amount by about 1/2 tablespoon.

When combined, I noticed that the batter was quite thick and foamy and I suspected that the baking soda was already reacting to the the acids in the buttermilk, getting the leavening process underway. I baked the batter in three different size muffin pans for variety and when they came out, the first thing I did was devour a couple with a chilled glass of buttermilk. They were very flavorful and moist – the perfect breakfast treat!

Moist and flavorful!twdcorndetail

Thanks to Rebecca of Ezra Pound Cake for suggesting Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins on page 6 of Baking, From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Home for the holidays with a Chinese twist!

I just love it when my kids are home from college! They bring back the sounds that I miss so much while they are away: the sound of feet tripping up the stairs; Alex's booming voice; their music dominating the airwaves; the punching bag taking a serious beating, and Emilia's sweet voice asking me for a favor.

It's amazing how they take over the house: the laundry room is always filled to the hilt; the dining room becomes a computer centre and my hairdryer moves to another bathroom. But the best takeover ever, is when they take over the kitchen!

Let me tell you about my son, Alex. He is well on his way to becoming a chemical engineer. He has been an engineer since he was very young - crafting forts, coffeemakers, waterways and everything imaginable out of odd objects around the house. "He comes by it honestly!" Grandmother Harris would say in her Southern drawl. You see, her son, my husband and Alex's daddio, is an engineer himself.

More recently, Alex has taken an interest in cooking and has even brewed his own beer! The other day, he came downstairs in chef's pants, yes, chef's pants (gifted to him by his lovely girlfriend), and expressed a craving for Orange Chicken.

I had developed a healthy version of Orange Chicken in which the chicken is the main ingredient and not the greasy, heavy batter that hides it (which is the standard prefabricated fare served in many Chinese restaurants). My chicken consists of fresh orange rind and juice and chicken breast pieces that have no batter at all. What Alex was interested in was a version with a light batter and a thick, spicy orangey sauce. After a short time on the web we found a recipe that had potential and developed it to our liking.

I happily became his minion as he led the way. We fiddled with the proportions of ginger, garlic, sugar and orange. What resulted is an amazing dish with a serious orange punch. Spicy, less sweet, and tender chicken, with a very light brushing of flour. You won't miss the extra fat or carbs!

Alex's Orange Chicken

Adapted from Allrecipes' Asian Orange Chicken

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons freshly grated or thinly sliced dried orange rind (we prefer the fresh rind)

1 cup orange juice, preferably freshly squeezed

1/4 cup lemon juice, preferably freshly squeezed

1/3 cup rice wine vinegar (seasoned is ok)

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger root

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh garlic

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

vegetable or olive oil, as needed

3 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons cold water

4 tablespoons chopped green onions

Place 3/4 cup water, orange peel, orange juice, lemon juice, rice vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger root, garlic and red pepper flakes in a pot and heat for about 5 minutes until the sugar melts and the mixture is barely warm. Cool for 5 minutes.

Place chicken in a large bowl. Add 1 cup of orange mixture and stir to coat the chicken pieces. Set aside to marinate for at least 20 minutes.

Place flour, salt and pepper in a bowl and combine. Drain the chicken pieces and add the marinating liquid to the rest of the sauce in the pot. Preheat the oven to 300F.

On high heat, heat a small amount (about 1 - 2 tablespoons) of oil to cover the bottom of a wok or saucepan. Take about 12 pieces of chicken and lightly coat them in the flour. Using tongs, quickly saute them until browned, turning once. They should not be completely cooked. Remove from wok or saucepan and place in an ovenproof dish. Continue sauteing the rest of the chicken, adding oil sparingly to the pan. Cover the chicken tightly with foil or a lid and place it in the preheated oven to continue cooking while you make the sauce.

Pour the orange juice mixture in the wok or saucepan and, bring the orange juice mixture to a boil over medium heat. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir cornstarch and 2 tablespoons cold water in a small bowl until well blended. Pour into orange mixture and cook until thickened. Add green onions. Remove chicken from the oven and pour the sauce over the chicken. Serve with steamed vegetables and rice.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mir Božiji, Hristos se rodi!

Mir Božiji, Hristos se rodi! That is the greeting that all Serbian Orthodox Christians exclaim today. It means: God’s peace, Christ is born! The response is Vaistinu se rodi! or Indeed He is born!

If it’s January 7, it’s Božić – Christmas for the Serbian Orthodox people! Because our church calendar follows the Julian calendar, we are thirteen days behind all other Christians in celebrating the birth of Jesus. Only the Russian Orthodox and the monks of Mount Athos in Greece follow the same.

Several years ago, I woke up to a radio program they called “The Little Christmas”. The warm sound of a Russian men’s church choir singing a cappella filled the air and I was overjoyed that our Christmas was receiving some recognition here in North America. It is a Christmas far less commercialized, with many interesting customs.

As a child, I remember watching in awe on Christmas Eve (Badnje Veče), as the priest lit the badnjak (yule log). This is a ritual that symbolizes light and sacrifice, so that the fields are fertile in the coming year and the family has health and happiness. Every family received a small branch of the badnjak, which was decorated with dried fruit, wheat, candy, hazelnuts, walnuts and coins. The church floor was covered in hay, a reminder of Christ’s birthplace.

On Christmas Day, we woke up early to see what small gifts Božić Bata (Serbian Santa), left for us in our shoes by the door. Usually it was a small gift, an apple or an orange, nuts and a piece of candy. Very modest, indeed. But the highlight of the day was the Christmas feast. It usually included a whole pig, roasted over a period of several hours on a spit, sarma (stuffed cabbage leaves) and a special round loaf of bread called česnica. Before baking the česnica the hostess slips a coin in the dough. When it is time to feast, the family gathers in a circle and each member pulls a piece of the česnica, hoping to find the coin in their portion. The promise of health and good luck for the rest of the year is at stake!

Several years ago, I came across a good recipe for česnica published by ‘Karen in California’ on
Virtual Tourist. Here it is, including my revisions for using instant yeast:

The beauty about this recipe is that you don’t need to ‘proof’ the yeast, or test it for its freshness. Simply combine it with the flour and it’s good to go!

5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
1 tablespoon (1 packet) instant yeast
1 cup water
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, cut into about 8 pieces
3 eggs, divided use
olive oil
You will also need a candy thermometer to measure the temperature of the liquids.

Put flour and yeast in bowl of mixer and blend with a paddle attachment. In a large glass measuring bowl, combine water, milk, sugar, salt and butter pieces. Microwave until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved. Let cool until the temperature measures 120°F – 130°F.
Lightly beat two eggs with a fork in a medium bowl to break them up. Add a small amount of milk mixture to temper the eggs. Add eggs to the rest of the milk mixture.
Turn mixer speed to low. Slowly pour milk mixture to flour. When incorporated, beat at medium speed for about 2 minutes. The mixture will be sticky.
Pour about 2 tablespoon of olive oil in the bottom of a large bowl and spread it on the bottom.
‘Flour’ a counter space with about 1 cup of flour. Pour dough onto flour and knead for about 5 minutes, incorporating most of the flour. Place dough in a well-oiled bowl, and then flip the dough over so that all sides are oily. Cover the bowl with a towel and let it rest in a warm place until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
Lightly grease a large round baking pan (I use a 12-inch round one) with olive oil and set aside.
Add a little more flour to the counter space and place the beautiful, soft, risen dough on it. Cut a small piece off for the cross decoration and put it aside. Lightly flour the top of the dough and fold the dough over itself 3 or 4 times. Hide the coin in the dough and forget about where you placed it! Place it in the baking pan. Roll the remaining dough into 2 strips and place them on the dough in the shape of a large cross. Cover and let it rise in a warm place for an additional 30 minutes, or until it fills up the pan.
Beat the remaining egg with 1 teaspoon of water in a small bowl and brush the top of the dough gently with it.
Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for until well browned and baked through, about 40 minutes.
Enjoy the česnica with your family and friends and may the person who gets the coin have good luck and great health for the rest of the year!

One final note on this special day goes to my special brother, Božidar, who interrupted my mother’s preparations for the feast and came in a hurry on Božić. Bož was initially named ‘Milan’, after two uncles, and went by that name during his formative years. That is, until a sweet old Serbian lady exclaimed in complete shock that my brother, being a special gift from God brought his own name by being born on Christmas day, and what were my parents thinking?! Sretan Rođendan, Bož, and I’m glad they finally got your name right!


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tuesdays With Dorie!

French Pear Tart
As a regular listener of NPR, I was introduced to Dorie Greenspan and her love of baking a few years ago. She was very generous to share her prized recipes on the air, and I must have been the first to hit the website, print and bake. Her recipe for rugelach is still a favorite. Ms. Greenspan has since published her 9th cookbook, Baking: From my kitchen to yours, now my favorite source for sweet things! The book includes interesting anecdotes of Ms. Greenspan baking in a modest New York home when she was a young girl, to working with the likes of the highly esteemed Julia Child, Pierre Herme and Daniel Boulud!
My dearest, sweetest neighbor, Carolina, recommended I join Tuesdays with Dorie. It didn't take much coaxing and fortunately the group opened to new members recently. So here I am, a baker at heart, doing what I enjoy most - sharing my experiences from the book with you. And I'm sure the neighbors on our short cul-de-sac won't mind either!
Ms. Greenspan herself chose the recipe for this week: French Pear Tart, on page 368. Being somewhat of a Francophile, I was very pleased and pulled out my collection of tart pans (which recently doubled, thanks to my generous friend, Deb). I chose a rectangular one, as you can see!
The pastry was easy to make, baked beautifully and retained its shape. The filling was fluffy and delicious with the addition of finely ground almonds. The only problem I encountered was finding fresh pears. You see, I Iive in the burbs, and quality is sometimes suspect. My fresh pears turned to mush and were brown on the inside when I poached them. They were duly tossed! Fortunately, Ms. Greenspan also recommended canned pears (which the French most commonly use). I am not a fan of canned foods, but Del Monte came through in a pinch! The pears were firm enough to slice and baked up beautifully.
Ms. Greenspan recommends eating this tart the same day it is baked, but I'm saving it for a special occasion tomorrow where I will share it with my family and friends. And to you, I recommend you go out and buy the book now, and join in the fun! Bon Appetit and

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Not your traditional French Mother's Yule Log!

It goes without saying that the ultimate Christmas cake is the Buche de Noel, or French Yule Log. Traditionally it is a chocolate rolled cake (jellyroll style), filled with a rich buttercream and decorated with rich chocolate icing. This icing is ridged to resemble the bark of a tree. Leaves, berries and mushrooms (made of meringue) decorate the log. All in all, it is a beautiful and delicious presentation for the end of a holiday meal.
This month's Daring Baker's Challenge is a modern take on the Yule Log. It is a layered construction consisting of six (6) different 'elements'. They are, from top to bottom: Icing, Creme Brulee layer, Mousse, Praline Feuillete (Crisp), Ganache layer and Dacquiose. Our challenge was to include all six elements and have fun,fun,fun with the flavorings, shape and decoration.
Yes, it was fun because I enjoy a challenge every now and again, but this challenge called for major organization. When I first printed all 15 pages or so, I was overwhelmed. Of course, it being the holiday season added to my apprehension. I triple punched the sheets and awarded them their own three-ring binder. I put them away for 3 weeks, with only a casual glance now and then. When I was finally able to sit down and make some decisions about flavors, I felt like a college student studying for finals! Fortunately, a container of crystallized ginger, gingersnaps and a bag of almonds jumped out at me from the pantry and the decision was made: Ginger, Chocolate and Almond Yule Log. Having eliminated many of the flavor options included in the recipe, I felt my task would be a lot simpler to execute!
I baked over a four day span. On the first day I made the Almond Dacquoise and the Ginger Creme Brulee layer. On day two I made the Praline for the Feuillete, the actual Praline Feuillete Crisp, and the Dark Chocolate Ganache. On the third day, I made the Dark Chocolate Mousse and assembled the log with little trouble and froze it. On New Year's Eve, I poured the Dark Chocolate Icing on the log and decorated it with fresh cranberries and holly leaves.
The dessert was very well received by my wine group buddies. The ginger flavoring took front seat and blended very well with the dark chocolate. The texture was smooth and creamy, with a surprise crunch from the Feuillete Crisp. The host couple called on New Year's Day, asking where I had stashed the leftovers! Well, there were none, since it generously served 13 people.

This month's challenge is hosted by Hilda of Saffron & Blueberry ( and Marion of (Il en faut peu pour etre heureux ( Thanks ladies for organizing this major challenge!

The author of the recipe is Flore of Florilège Gourmand . The recipe can be found on her website: Bakers: check out her website! It is amazing and full of photographs, technique tips and recipes! It is one of my 'favorites' and will be a valuable source for me.
About the recipe:
The recipe (I should say recipes), as printed, is not for the faint at heart. Bless the French, but they don't write recipes the way we do here in the States. Ingredients are not listed in order of use and some important steps in the method are completely left out. For those of us who have experience baking, it was merely an inconvenience. I have corrected these problems below, so the steps should be a lot easier for anyone to follow.
First, I dug deep into the netherlands of my kitchen cabinets to find my Rehrucken Mold. Yes, it's Rehrucken, with an umlaut over the 'u'. I even had to 'Google it' to find its name! From whence it came to my kitchen I have no recollection, but I've had it for many years and have never used it. It is an Austrian creation typically used to bake a 'Saddle of Venison' Cake' (strange, but true). The mold is also called a Moravian Loaf Pan or simply a Ribbed Cake Pan. I thought it would be perfect to shape this confection. Of course, you can use any large loaf or 9 - 10 inch cake pan. This is what the Rehrucken pan looks like:

Ginger, Chocolate and Almond Yule Log
The recipes below include my comments and changes made to the original recipes.

Almond Dacquoise (Almond Cake)
Equipment: 2 mixing bowls, hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment, spatula, baking pan such as a 10”x15” jelly-roll pan, parchment paper. This can be baked two days ahead and wrapped tightly in plastic wrap to keep fresh.

1 cup almond meal (2.8 oz, 80g) I first toasted about 1/2 cup of raw almonds, then ground them and measured 1 cup of almond meal.
1/2 cup (50g, 1.75oz) caster (extra fine granulated) sugar
2Tbsp (15g) all-purpose flour
3 large egg whites
4 Tbsp (50g, 1.75oz) granulated sugar

1. Finely mix the almond meal and the caster sugar. (If you have a mixer, you can use it by pulsing the ingredients together for no longer than 30 seconds). Sift the flour into the mix.

2. Beat the eggs whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until stiff.

3. Pour the almond meal mixture into the egg whites and blend delicately with a spatula.

4. Grease a piece of parchment paper and line your baking pan with it.

5. Spread the batter on a piece of parchment paper to an area slightly larger than your desired shape (circle, long strip etc...) and to a height of 1/3 inches (8mm). Bake at 350°F (180°C) for approximately 15 minutes (depends on your oven), until golden. Let cool and cut to the desired shape.

Ginger Crème Brulée Insert
Equipment: Small saucepan, mixing bowl, baking mold, wax paper
Note: The ginger crème brulée can be flavored differently by simply replacing the ginger with vanilla, cardamom, lavender, etc.
1/2-cup (115g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
½ cup (115g) whole milk
2 teaspoons ginger juice
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
4 medium-sized (72g) egg yolks
0.75 oz (2 Tbsp / 25g) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
1. Heat the milk, cream, and gingers to just boiling. Remove from the stove and let the gingers infuse for about 1 hour.
2. Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks (but do not beat until white).
3. Pour the ginger-infused milk over the sugar/yolk mixture. Mix well. Add vanilla essence.
4. Line your mold with aluminum foil, using a piece that is large enough to cover all sides without any edges at the bottom of the mold. Pour the cream into the mold and bake with a water bath at 210°F (100°C) for about 35 minutes to 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center.
The most respected Tartelette ( says: You can bake it without a water bath since it is going to go inside the log (the aesthetics of it won't matter as much since it will be covered with other things).... BUT I would recommend a water bath for the following reasons:- you will get a much nicer mouth feel when it is done- you will be able to control its baking point and desired consistency much better- it bakes for such a long time that I fear it will get overdone without a water bath. Now...since it is baked in a pan and it is sometimes difficult to find another large pan to set it in for a water bath, even a small amount of water in your water bath will help the heat be distributed evenly in the baking process. Even as little as 1 inch will help.
5. Let cool and put in the freezer for at least 1 hour to firm up and facilitate the final assembly.
Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert
Feuillete means layered (as in with leaves) so a Praline Feuillete is a Praline version of a delicate crisp.
The original recipe for the Praline Crisp lists Gavottes. Gavottes are crisp lace-thin crepes. They are not available in the US. I chose not to make them, and substituted ground gingersnaps, in keeping with my flavor.
I also made my own Almond Praline, based on the recipe in the July 2008 challenge. Here it is:
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup raw almonds, lightly toasted
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Butter parchment.
2. Put the sugar in a small, heavy pan. Heat on low flame for about 10 minutes until the sugar starts to melt around the edges. Do not stir. Swirl the pan if necessary to melt the sugar. Stir quickly if the sugar in the middle doesn't melt. Remove from heat when caramel in color and sugar is melted.
3. Quickly add the almonds and stir to coat. Pour onto parchment and spread into a single layer of almonds. Cool completely.
4. When praline is cold, break it up and place it in a processor. Process until it's a fine powder.
Ingredients for the Praline Feuillete:
3.5 oz (100g) semi-sweet chocolate
1 2/3 Tbsp (25g) butter
2 Tbsp (1 oz / 30g) praline powder
2.1oz (60g) gingersnaps, ground in processor
1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler.
2. Add the praline and the ground gingersnaps. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate.
3. Spread between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.
Dark Chocolate Ganache Insert
Equipment: pan, whisk. Note: Because the ganache hardens as it cools, you should make it right before you intend to use it to facilitate piping it onto the log during assembly. You can also cover the hardened Creme Brulee Insert with plastic wrap and pour the ganache over it. Re-freeze. You will get the correct shape for the ganache.
1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar
4.5oz (2/3 cup – 1 Tbsp/ 135g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
5 oz (135g) dark chocolate, finely chopped
3Tbsp + 1/2tsp (45g) unsalted butter softened
3/4 ounces crystallized ginger, finely chopped
1. Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small saucepan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color.
2. While the sugar is melting, heat the cream until boiling. Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil.
3. Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth.
4. Add the softened butter and whip hard and fast. The chocolate should be smooth and shiny.
5. Add ginger and stir.

Foreground: Creme Brulee Insert, Middleground: Feuillette Crisp, Background: Ganache Insert

Dark Chocolate Mousse
Here I encountered a problem with the sugar syrup (see picture below). I also whipped the remaining cream at the end before I added it to the chocolate mixture to create a mousse consistency.
Equipment: stand or hand mixer with whisk attachment, thermometer, double boiler or equivalent, spatula Note: You will see that a Pate a Bombe is mentioned in this recipe. A Pate a Bombe is a term used for egg yolks beaten with sugar syrup, then aerated. It is the base used for many mousse and buttercream recipes. It makes mousses and buttercreams more stable, particularly if they are to be frozen, so that they do not melt as quickly or collapse under the weight of heavier items such as the crème brulee insert.
.5 sheets gelatin or 5g / 2+1/4 tsp powdered gelatin
1.5 oz (3 Tbsp / 40g) granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp (10g) glucose or thick corn syrup
0.5 oz (15g) water
50g egg yolks (about 3 medium)
6.2 oz (175g) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1.5 cups (350g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
1. Soften the gelatin in cold water. (If using powdered gelatin, follow the directions on the package.)
2. Make a Pate a Bombe: Beat the egg yolks until very light in colour (approximately 5 minutes until almost white).
3. Cook the sugar, glucose syrup and water on medium heat for approximately 3 minutes (if you have a candy thermometer, the mixture should reach 244°F (118°C). If you do not have a candy thermometer, test the sugar temperature by dipping the tip of a knife into the syrup then into a bowl of ice water, if it forms a soft ball in the water then you have reached the correct temperature.

The temperature of the sugar syrup rose very quickly after 243F. In fact, it jumped to 268F but I decided to use it regardless. This is what I got: lovely icicles on my whisk and the sides of the bowl. Pretty, but not what the doctor ordered!

4. Add the sugar syrup to the beaten yolks carefully by pouring it into the mixture in a thin stream while continuing to beat the yolks. Continue beating until cool (approximately 5 minutes). The batter should become thick and foamy.

5. In a double boiler or equivalent, heat 2 tablespoons (30g) of cream to boiling. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smooth.

6. Pour the melted chocolate over the softened gelatin, mixing well. Let the gelatin and chocolate cool slightly and then stir in ½ cup (100g) of cream to temper. Add the Pate a Bombe.

7. Whip the rest of the cream and fold gently with a spatula into chocolate mixture.

Dark Chocolate Icing
I doubled the following recipe for the log. This is an amazing icing for cakes because it pours beautifully and freezes well. It also remains shiny and is easy to cut. I'll definately use it for bombes and other frozen cakes.
Equipment: Small bowl, small saucepan. Note: Because the icing jellifies quickly, you should make it at the last minute.
4g / ½ Tbsp powdered gelatin or 2 sheets gelatin
¼ cup (60g) heavy cream (35 % fat content)
2.1 oz (5 Tbsp / 60g) granulated sugar
¼ cup (50g) water
1/3 cup (30g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1. Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes.
2. Boil the rest of the ingredients and cook an additional 3 minutes after boiling, stirring constantly.
3. Add to the chocolate mixture. Mix well.
4. Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to jell), use immediately.
How To Assemble your French Yule Log:
THIS IS FOR UNMOLDING FROM UPSIDE DOWN TO RIGHT SIDE UP, AS I DID. You will want to tap your mold gently on the countertop after each time you pipe mousse in to get rid of any air bubbles.
Line your mold or pan, whatever its shape, with rhodoid (clear hard plastic, I usually use transparencies cut to the desired shape, it’s easier to find than cellulose acetate which is what rhodoid translates to in English) OR plastic film. Rhodoid will give you a smoother shape but you may have a hard time using it depending on the kind of mold you’re using. I lined my Rehrucken pan with plastic wrap.
Pipe one third of the Mousse component into the mold.
Take the Creme Brulee Insert out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse. Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse.
Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.
Cut the Praline/Crisp Insert to a size slightly smaller than your mold so that it can be surrounded by mousse. Lay it on top of the mousse you just piped into the mold.
Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.
Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.
Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight edge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.
Close with the Dacquoise. Freeze until the next day.
So the order is (from first down in the mold):
1) Dark Chocolate Mousse
2) Crème Brulee Insert
3) Mousse again
4) Praline/Crisp Insert
5) Mousse
6) Ganache Insert
7) Dacquoise
THE NEXT DAY...Unmold the log and set on a wire rack over a shallow pan.
Cover the cake with the icing. Let set. Return to the freezer.
You may decorate your cake however you wish. The decorations can be set in the icing after it sets but before you return the cake to the freezer or you may attach them on top using extra ganache or leftover mousse, etc... I decorated my log with fresh cranberries and holly leaves.
Transfer to the refrigerator two to three hours before serving, so the frozen parts have a change to soften a little. Slice log into 1/2 inch thick pieces. Serves about 14.