Gâteau Amizade - Chocolate-Filled Almond "Friendship" Cake

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Gâteau Amizade - Chocolate-Filled Almond "Friendship" Cake

Recently, I hosted some friends over for dinner and felt like I was in a bit of a dessert rut… I have a pretty solid repertoire of desserts but somehow I wanted to prepare something different and innovative.   I was also already making a pretty elaborate main course.  So, to preserve my own sanity, something “different and innovative” would have to be “simple” as well!  

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Brigadeiros de Nutella - Brazilian Chocolate Nutella Sweets

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Brigadeiros de Nutella - Brazilian Chocolate Nutella Sweets

Brigadeiros, intense chocolate sweets from Brazil, are made out of condensed milk, unsweetened cocoa powder, and a bit of butter.  The mixture is cooked over low heat until it thickens, then shaped into small balls and coated in chocolate sprinkles.  Popular among both children and adults, they can be found at every kid’s birthday party and at bakeries throughout the country.   

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Chocolate Macarons filled with Nutella Buttercream

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Chocolate Macarons filled with Nutella Buttercream

One of my favorite experiences from culinary school was  learning how to make French macarons, exquisite delicate almond -meringue cookies filled with ganache, buttercream, or jam.  Interestingly enough macarons, despite their name, didn’t originate in France.  Instead, the cookies, without the filling, originated in Italy.  When Catherine de Medici, an Itlaian noblewoman, married the future King Henry II of France in 1533, she took her pastry chefs with her to her new home.    It was only in the 20th century that French chefs started flavoring the cookies and filling them with ganache or buttercream.

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Chocolate Sablé Cookies

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Chocolate Sablé Cookies

When I did my internship at Pierre Hermé Paris, I would prepare a large batch of these cookies every single day…  Sablés are essentially shortbread cookies where you first cream the butter and the sugar togetherand then delicately add the dry ingredients. 

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Orange Zest Madeleines

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Orange Zest Madeleines

Madelaines are a small sponge cake originally from the town of Commercy in the Lorraine region in Northeastern France. While I have fond memories of madeleines while in Paris, I also associate them with the Camino de Santiago given their shell shape.

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Fruit and Chocolate Fondue

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Fruit and Chocolate Fondue

One of the reasons that I love finishing a meal with a fruit and chocolate fondue is that it is pretty effortless.  There is hardly any advance planning required to prepare the chocolate mixture making it ideal for last minute entertaining.  In addition, there is a certain elegance to fondue that creates an immediate “wow” factor.  And like I always say, there is nothing better than an easy, impactful recipe!

Serves 4

 

½ cup heavy cream

8 ounces semi sweet chocolate, chopped

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 pinch salt

1 pint of strawberries, whole or hulled

1 pint of raspberries

2 bananas, peeled and sliced


Place the cream in small sauce pan and heat gently.  As soon as the cream starts bubbling around the edges, remove from the heat and add the chocolate.  Let sit covered for about five minutes.  Uncover, add the almond extract and salt,  and whisk until smooth.  Transfer the chocolate mixture to a warm fondue pot and keep warm with a votive candle or a burner set very low.

Place all the fruit on a platter and serve along with the fondue.

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Flourless Chocolate Cake

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Flourless Chocolate Cake

Before I attended culinary school in France, I enrolled in a one-week career discovery program at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa, CA.  The focus of program was professional baking and pastry arts and it helped me decide that I in fact wanted to get a culinary degree.  One of my favorite recipes from the program was this flourless chocolate cake.  It is a fairly simple and straightforward recipe to prepare yet people always seem so amazed by it…  When you are entertaining that is what you ultimately want:  an impressive dessert that is not hard to make!

 

Serves 8

8 ounces butter

1 lb. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

8 eggs

½ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon almond extract

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup powdered sugar, for garnish

Raspberries, for garnish

 

 

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Fill a small pan with water and heat over high heat.  Place a metal or glass bowl over the pan (the bottom of the bowl should not be touching the water). Add the butter and chocolate to the bowl and allow to melt over the steam of the water .  Once the butter and chocolate are melted, take the bowl off the water and allow the chocolate and butter mixture to cool down to room temperature.

In the meantime, grease the sides of 9-inch cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.  Using a mixer, whisk the whole eggs and sugar on high speed until double in volume, about five minutes.  Add the almond extract and salt.

Fold about one third of the chocolate and butter mixture into the eggs until only a few streaks of chocolate are visible.  Continue to gradually add the remaining chocolate and butter mixture to the eggs, gently folding until the batter is homogenous.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth the surface with a spatula.  Place the cake pan into a water bath (place the cake pan into a larger cake or roasting pan and pour hot water in between the two pans until the water reaches half way up the side of the smaller cake pan.)  Place in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes.  The cake will have slightly risen, the edges will have just began to set and the center of the cake will register a temperature of 140°F.  Remove from the oven, cool and refrigerate overnight.

Warm slightly and run a small knife around the cake to remove from the cake pan.  Invert it onto a platter and remove the parchment paper.  Dust with the powdered sugar and serve with raspberries.

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Le Concorde

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Le Concorde

The Le Concorde cake layers crisp chocolate meringue with rich, creamy chocolate mousse creating a feast of contrasting textures.  Created in 1969 by the celebrated French pastry chef Gaston Lenotre, it is debatable why the cake took the name it did.  Some say that Monsieur Lenotre developed the cake and dubbed it Le Concorde because the namesake plane had taken its maiden flight that same year.  Others claim the cake was created as an homage to one of Paris’s most majestic squares, Place de La Concorde, a place renowned for it’s importance in French history.  In any case, the cake is so grand and impressive that it deserves a name as fitting!

 

Serves 8-10

For the meringue

1 ½ cup powdered sugar

4 ½ tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder

6 large egg whites, at room temperature

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt


For the mousse

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

12 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature

9 large egg whites, at room temperature

1 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar

5 large egg yolks, at room temperature, lightly beaten with a fork

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt

Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 250"F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Draw two 8 circles on one piece of parchment and another 8 inch circle on the other piece of parchment paper.  Turn the parchment paper over and ensure you can see the outline.  Fit a large pastry bag with a plain ½ inch tip.

Sift the powdered sugar and cocoa powder together and set aside. Using a standup mixer, whisk the egg whites on high speed until they turn opaque and form soft peaks, about three minutes. Still whisking on high, gradually add the granulated sugar and continue to beat until the whites are glossy and hold firm peaks, about five more minutes. Add the vanilla and salt. With a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the powdered sugar and cocoa mixture. Your meringue will lose a bit of volume but that is perfectly normal.

  Fill your pastry bag and begin piping the batter at the center of one of the traced circles. Work your way in a spiral to the edge of the circle. The batter should be piped evenly, forming a disk about 1/3 inch thick.  Refill your pastry bag as necessary and repeat the process with the remaining two circles. After the three disks have been piped, pipe as many long strips of meringue as you can on the baking sheet with the single disk.

Place the baking sheets in the oven. Bake the disks for 1.5 hours, rotating the pans front to back and top to bot­tom twice during the baking period. The meringues should be firm but not dark. Turn off the oven and leave the meringues to dry inside the oven (with the door closed) for at least two hours or overnight. Run a thin metal spatula under the disks and strips to loosen them from the parchment paper.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler.  Then allow it to cool until it feels warm to the touch.  Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter until it is very smooth. Add the cooled chocolate in three additions, beating until the mixture is well blended. Transfer the choco­late mousse into a large bowl and thoroughly wash and dry the mixer bowl and whisk.

In the clean mixer bowl, whisk the egg whites on high speed until they hold soft peaks, about three minutes. Add the sugar and continue to whisk until the whites hold firm, glossy peaks. Add the yolks, salt and vanilla extract and whisk for another 30 seconds. With a large flexible spatula, gently add the chocolate in three additions into the egg mixture.

Place a dollop of chocolate mousse in the center of a round platter and “glue” one meringue disk to the platter.  Spread about one quarter of the chocolate mousse onto the disk.  Place another disk over the mousse, pressing the disk lightly so that it settles evenly on the mousse. Once again, spread another quarter of the mousse onto the disk. Place the remaining disk on top and coat the top and sides of the cake with the remaining mousse and place the cake into the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to set.

In the meantime, using a serrated knife, cut the meringue strips into pieces about ½ inch long. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and press the meringue pieces into the sides of the cake.  You can serve the cake now but the meringue will be softer if you refrigerate the cake for at least one day.

Make it ahead:  The meringue disks and rods can be made up to 1 week ahead and kept in an airtight box at room temperature, but the mousse needs to be used as soon as it's made.  Once the cake is assembled, it can be kept covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.  It also freezes quite nicely.  When you are ready to serve, simply defrost in the refrigerator.

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Nutella-filled Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Nutella-filled Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recently a friend called me with a special request.... Could I come up with a cookie that had chocolate chips and Nutella (a wonderful chocolate hazelnut spread) in it. As those that know me well, I am unstoppable when someone suggests I come up with something I have never done!  I got right to work and what I came up with is a traditional chocolate chip with a hidden dollop of Nutella inside.  In addition, I added a sprinkling of fleur de sel on top as that tends to be one of my culinary trademarks (salt enhances flavors even in sweet creations.)  Those who believe that they are going to simply bite just into a chocolate chip cookie are truly in a for delightful surprise as the texture and combination of flavors are perfect elements to make a party in your mouth.

 

1/2 cup Nutella

1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter

1 cup brown sugar

3 egg yolks

1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cup flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

½ teaspoon fleur de sel

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

 

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat and set aside.

Spoon 18 small dollops of Nutella onto a plate and put the plate in the freezer for about 20 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the butter and brown sugar until well combined. Add the egg yolks and vanilla and whisk together until light and smooth. Gradually add the flour, baking soda, and salt and mix until just combined. Fold in the chips chocolate chips.

Using an ice cream scoop, divide the dough into 18 1½-inch balls. Make an indentation in the center of each ball and place a dollop of Nutella in it. Fold the dough around the Nutella to completely seal it in, then gently roll into a ball again.

Place on the prepared baking sheet, about 3-4 inches apart. Sprinkle some fleur de sel on top of each cookie. Bake for 12-13 minutes. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  I enjoy these cookies best while they are slightly warm but even the next day the Nutella will still be soft and gooey!

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Tarta de Santiago - Santiago Almond Cake

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Tarta de Santiago - Santiago Almond Cake

This simple, yet delicate, almond cake is originally from Galicia.  It derives its name from the fact that it is dusted with powdered sugar using a stencil to create an imprint of the cross of St. James.  A perfect accompaniment to café con leche, it also makes a lovely dessert for any meal. I first had the opportunity to try it in Portomarín, which is home to one of the largest wholesale bakeries in Spain  specializing in Tarta de Santiago. While the cakes are mass produced and sold all over the country, when you eat them in Portomarín, you are guaranteed to get the freshest serving.  My favorite Tarta de Santiago, however, is the “de la casa” rendition (they also serve a more economical industrial version) served at the restaurant of the Hotel Rúa Vilar right across from the old pilgrims’ office on Rúa do Vilar.  I had the opportunity to meet the chef who was working there in 2011 (I believe he has since moved on) and he was kind enough to share with me the proportions of the three main ingredients: eggs, sugar and almond flour.  The remaining ingredients are my additions to ensure that the best flavors come through.  When I entertain large groups, I like to “supersize” the recipe.  I simply double the amount of all the ingredients and use a 10-inch pan.

Serves 8-10

4 large eggs

1 cup (200 g) sugar

1 teaspoon (5 ml) almond extract

Zest of one lemon, finely grated

2 cups (200 g) almond flour/meal

½ teaspoon (3 g) salt

¼ cup (30 g) powdered sugar for decorating

 

Mise-en-Place... Measuring and preparing the ingredients so they are ready for use.

Position the rack in the middle of the oven.  Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C.)  Line the bottom of an 8-inch (20 cm) or 9-inch (23 cm) cake or springform pan with parchment paper and set aside. The smaller pan size will yield a slightly higher cake.  It is best to use a light colored baking pan as the darker pans will cause the bottom and sides of the cake to brown much faster than the top.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar with a whisk or with an electric mixer at medium speed.  Continue beating until the mixture is thick and pale yellow, about 5 minutes by hand or 4 minutes with a mixer.  Beat in the almond extract and lemon zest until smooth and uniform.

With a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula stir in the almond flour and salt and mix gently just until the eggs are well incorporated.  Do not beat.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it gently.

Bake for about 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out dry.  Set the pan over a wire rack and allow to cool before unmolding.

Unmold the cake onto a serving platter.  Using a stencil of the cross of St. James and a small sieve, dust with the powdered sugar.  Be careful lifting the stencil as to avoid the sugar on top of the stencil falling on to the cake.

Preheat your oven.

Prepare the cake pan.

Whisk your eggs and sugar...

...until they are light, fluffy and pale in color.

Add lemon zest.

Add the almond flour...

...and mix gently until well incorporated. 

Pour the batter in the cake pan.

And in the oven, it goes!

Place the St. James cross in the middle.

Dust with powder sugar

¡Buen Provecho!

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