Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Strawberry Almond Frasier & Frangipane

Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine.  I created a Strawberry Almond Frasier and in spite of all my very best (unintentional) efforts to mess up this dessert, it still came out delicious!

Next month I pledge to complete my Daring Baker’s task ahead of time, not on the last day as I have been doing the past few months.  Because invariably something goes wrong and I wish I had time to do a do-over!  Today’s snafu was doubled in that I did not have enough heavy cream to lighten my gelatin stabilized pastry cream, and therefore did not have enough filling for the frasier.  So – in a stroke of desperation, or perhaps genius, I used a long frozen batch of frangipane (almond cream) to make up the bulk of the filing.  

I defrosted it, whipped it up to a light consistency, and piped it into the center of the cake.  Put on the top layer, soaked it in simple syrup and then I remembered…. Almond Cream has raw eggs in it.  So this cake now had to be rebaked – and there’s already regular pastry cream in there that might get melted.  And raw strawberries that were supposed to stay that way.  Brilliant…………  But, I supposed it was better to have weepy pastry cream than salmonella poisoning!  So into a 375 F oven for 8 minutes and fingers crossed!

Shockingly the plastic wrap around the edges prevented a total melt down – and everything looked relatively still in place as I place the now HOT assembled cake back into the refrigerator for its 4 hour minimum chilling time.  Make that 5 hours now – haha!

The second substitution (ahem…problem) I ran into was that my box of almond paste has been in my pantry for years.  Still in its vacuum-sealed package of course.  However upon opening it was rock hard - no amount of manipulation, adding of bread or apple with it in a Ziploc bag as suggested, or final desperate step of reheating it in the microwave with a bit of water – could make it right.   After a failed attempt to roll out the “dough” I just followed the almond paste’s desires and chopped it into tiny crumbs.  Voila – almond crumb topping.   And the leftovers?  I am already thinking it will be awesome sprinkled over hot oatmeal… yum!

Final result?  Not so gorgeous – but very tasty!  I will tackle this type of dessert again – with more planning ahead next time.  And the gorgeous pictures of the other Frasier variations created by Daring Bakers at the Daring Kitchen has inspired me to try additional fruits next time and maybe even whip out some canapé cutters!  

In case you’d like to try the Almond Cream (also known as Frangipane) I’m including my recipe here.  The traditional use of it is to make wonderful Almond Croissants!  Simply split open an already baked croissant, fill with almond cream like a sandwich, and bake it at 375 F for about 8 minutes.  The filling will melt into the croissants gorgeously.  To dress up the croissants a bit more you can also brush the insides with simple syrup as well, and pipe a line of almond cream on the top of the croissant - which can act like glue to hold on some slivered almonds.  Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Almond Cream requires that you’ve already made Pastry Cream in advance.  I won’t include a recipe for that because Jana already has one on her website.  But the ratio is approximately 1 part pastry cream to 2 parts almond cream (recipe) – just fold them both together – the pastry cream lightens up the heavier almond cream.  This will keep in the freezer for a year.  Note: This recipe is from a professional kitchen and therefore uses measurement by weight not volume, so you’ll need a kitchen scale.

Almond Cream/Frangipane
200 g Butter
200 g Almond Flour (Ground up almonds)
200 g Confectionery Sugar
6 g Cornstarch
120 g Whole Eggs
40 g Dark Rum
380 g Premade Pastry Cream 

1)   Sift the Almond Flour and Confectionery Sugar together to get out any lumps into a Kitchenaid Mixer bowl.
2)   Add the room temperature butter and cream until light using the paddle attachment.
3)   Slowly add the eggs – continue to paddle.
4)   Add the rum (optional but oh so good) and some premade Pastry Cream to lighten up the almond cream – mix on slow to combine.
5)   Use immediately, store in refrigerator for a couple days, or freeze for up to a year.  Note there are raw eggs in this recipe so the Almond Cream must be heated before consuming.

Reminder that f you'd like to tackle this whole Frasier recipe (without alterations!)  you can find the ingredients and total walkthrough of the process at Jana's blog Cherry Tea Cakes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dark Chocolate "Sorbet"

This week’s Tuesdays with Dorie’s selection was Dark Chocolate Sorbet (p.431) from Baking: From My Home to Yours – perfect on a hot summer’s day.  The “sorbet” is creamy, rich, bittersweet decadence - like a frozen pudding or slightly liquid chocolate ganache.

While the title of the recipe calls this frozen treat a sorbet that is a misnomer because this dessert contains milk.  But it’s not really an ice cream because there is no cream.  It is however, extremely decadent – because unlike many chocolate sorbets (and many ice creams!) which rely heavily on cocoa powder for their flavor – this recipe uses only solid chocolate.  So you have a very thick, very rich, eat it in super small quantities and feel satisfied frozen dessert.  That’s a tall order with only four ingredients: milk, water, chocolate, and sugar.

This recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate (and the bar type is what you should be using here, not chocolate chips which have some stabilizers in them and therefore don’t melt as smoothly) – and I used Callebut’s Bittersweet chocolate, which is very high in cocoa solids.  It’s very intense flavor-wise and quite expensive – another reason why this sorbet should only be made in small batches!  A recipe like this would be way too expensive to do for a commercial operation or even a big party probably.  

This recipe is also unusual in that the whole recipe gets boiled!  For 5 minutes!  Most ice cream recipes are more exact and usually call for taking a temperature reading, not a time reading.  But hey – it worked, and it worked well!   After the boiling process the ganache/pudding/sorbet base needed to be poured into a heat proof container and chilled in the refrigerator for a couple of hours as it was basically molten lava.   

Spinning it in the ice cream machine resulted in a barely frozen base – which was quite a pain to scrape out into another container to freeze for a few more hours.  This extra freezing time was definitely necessary however, as even when frozen solid this sorbet defrosts quite quickly and will melt in a blink of an eye. 

This Dark Chocolate Sorbet is a decadent treat that I’m happy to have learned – but it’s only going to be consumed in small quantities and on special occasions in my household.  I topped the sorbet with some toasted coconut and found that the sweetness and crunch really helped cut through some of the thickness and bittersweet richness of the sorbet.  I bet nuts would be a lovely addition too.

If you’d like to try the recipe please pick up Baking: From My Home to Yours or visit Steph’s website A Whisk and a Spoon for the full recipe.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Coconut Lemongrass Pork & Perfect Stovetop Rice

First of all, I just wanted to give a sincere thank you to the United States Potato Board (and my fellow Daring Cooks) for awarding me second prize in their Healthy Potato Salad recipe challenge.  I was very happy to be challenged to create a unique dish and am proud that my Indian Potato Samosa Salad recipe was recognized from such a field of wonderful entries! It has been great fun cooking with the Daring Kitchen - both as a Daring Cook and Daring Baker - it's a great group that really encourages you to flex your culinary muscles! I guess my recipe and photo of the dish will soon be posted on the United States Potato Board's web site at and on the USPB's Facebook page which is  Until then you can also look at my original post for Indian Potato Samosa Salad on this site!

Today’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe was Coconut Lemongrass Braised Pork (p. 274) from Around My French Table.  This is now another starred, dog-earred page in the cookbook – an absolute winner.  For anyone who likes Thai or Indian food this will seem very familiar – it’s very similar to a Thai/South Indian curry - and it’s great to see how to replicate this sauce at home.  It’s all about the coconut milk!  Coconut is one of my favorite flavors, and thankfully coconut is no longer an ingredient that is demonized.  Like eggs it has gone from a no-no, to a healthy option (in moderation at least)!  It’s all about the marketing I’m sure…

Anyways – the steps to making this recipe are basically the same as making a stew.  Brown the meat in a skillet, season it, and set it in a covered Dutch oven (or similar ovenproof container) and let it cook in a liquid at low temperature until tender.  The interesting step here is that the vegetables are cooked separately (boiled – but I bet they could be roasted in the oven as well with nice results) and added into the saucy stew just at the very end.  This kept the vegetables tender but not falling apart, the potatoes saucy but not saturated. 

My tips would be to make sure you bash the lemongrass stalk well before adding it to the dish.  Only when it’s sufficiently bruised and separating will it release its full flavor.  Leave it in at least a 2 inch long segment though – as it will not cook down/get super soft – you’ll definitely want to be able to see it in the dish and avoid eating it later!  Also – don’t forget to taste at the end to adjust your salt, pepper, and lemon – you’ll definitely need more of at least one of these ingredients.  And definitely add the honey – it made all the difference to add that sweet undertone to the dish and a little bit of thickness to the sauce.

This sauce is so could I could drink it like a soup!  Not recommended I’m sure…. But there should be excess sauce after you finish your meal – definitely save it for future use!  I’m thinking of poaching some eggs in it, or just drizzling it over some hot rice.

Regarding that rice:  it’s taken me years to learn how to make a foolproof pot of stovetop rice.  And that knowledge came only after marrying a south Indian man who’s had a lifetime of rice cooking under his belt!  So here’s the simplest way of making perfect rice – without any fancy equipment at all. 

Perfect Stovetop Basmati Rice
Serves 2 generously

1 ½ cups basmati rice
3 cups water
½ tsp salt
Drizzle of olive oil (probably 1 tsp)

No presoaking or rinsing of the rice is necessary.  You can easily double this recipe - just keep in mind that the ratio of rice to water should always be 1:2.

1)   In a small saucepan add all the ingredients.  Give a quick stir to make sure all the rice grains are wet.  Cover with a tight fitting lid.
2)   Turn stovetop onto medium high and bring to a boil.  This should only take a few minutes, so stay close to the kitchen.
3)   As soon as the rice begins to boil turn the heat down to simmer.   Do not EVER take the lid off of the pot at any point to stir or you’ll have problems with your moisture.
4)   As the liquid starts to get low you can tilt the saucepan at an angle gently to see how much liquid is left.  When you barely see any liquid sliding up the side of the pot turn off the heat.  (This should take only 10-15 minutes depending on if you are doubling this recipe – it’s quite quick.) You definitely don’t want the pan to run completely dry or you’ll start to burn the bottom.
5)   LEAVE THE LID ON.  (This was always my major mistake!)  Let the rice continue to steam itself for another 10 minutes or so.  The final bit of liquid will be incorporated into the grains.
6)   When ready to serve remove the lid and gently fold/fluff the rice with a fork or slotted spoon – not a spoon or spatula as this will smoosh the rice grains together and take away from the texture.

Once you try this method once or twice you’ll never need to consult the recipe again as long as you remember the 1:2 ratio of rice to water.  And you should always have moist, tender, and not gluey or dry rice.   Serve it with the Coconut Lemongrass Braised Pork or with any dish you like.  Leftover rice keeps pretty well for a day in the fridge if sealed in Tupperware.  You can splash some water on it and reheat it briefly in the microwave.

Please come see how the other members of French Fridays with Dorie did with their Coconut Lemongrass Braised Pork!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Basil Pesto

Summer is in full swing in Chicago and my balcony garden is growing like wild.  In particular my basil plant was getting a little leggy…and flowery.  So I decided it was time to give it a trim and make some lovely fresh pesto.

Pesto is super easy to make as long as you have a food processor or blender, and it beats paying $8 a jar for it! 

Basil Pesto
Makes 1 cup of pesto

4 cups of fresh basil leaves, washed
½ cup walnut pieces
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp salt
1 garlic clove (optional)
4 tbsp olive oil

1) Place all ingredients except the olive oil into a food processor.  Pulse until well incorporated. 
2) While pulsing drizzle in the olive oil and process until pesto is to desired consistency – about 30 seconds usually.
3) Taste and adjust seasonings if desired.

Pesto can be kept in a tightly sealed jar or Tupperware container in the fridge for about a week.  Or freeze it to use it for up to a year (freezing it in ice cube trays and then unmolding these cubes into a Ziploc bag gives you easy individual portions).  Serve in pasta dishes, as a sandwich spread, or with eggs.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cold Melon & Berry Soup = Cantaloupe Sorbet

The latest addition to my repertoire from Around My French Table is the Cold Melon and Berry Soup on page 101.  Light, refreshing, and nicely chilled for a hot summer’s day.

This dish comes together in a snap with a blender or food processor.  Just make sure to wait long enough for your cantaloupe to become very ripe and flavorful.  Making this with a hard cantaloupe would be pointless – it needs to be dripping liquid when you cut it open.Topped with fresh strawberries and mint this is summer in a glass!  I skipped the addition of alcohol in this current soup form but started imagining that this recipe would be excellent made into a sorbet and topped with a splash of prosecco or champagne!

So I dug up The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz and confirmed that the recipe for cantaloupe sorbet is basically the same as our melon soup, just with an addition of more sugar.  My cantaloupe was very sweet to begin with so I added only a few teaspoons of sugar to the already made base/soup and spun it in my ice cream maker.   Perfect…………

Cantaloupe Sorbet
Adapted by mixing Dorie Greenspan’s Cold Melon and Berry Soup from Around my French Table with David Lebovitz’s Cantaloupe Sorbet from The Perfect Scoop.


One super ripe cantaloupe
1 ½ tsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
Pinch of Salt
3 teaspoons sugar (or more to taste)
Prosecco or Champagne (optional)
Strawberries and Fresh Mint (optional)


1.    Cut a large, very ripe cantaloupe in half.  Scoop out and discard the seeds.  Scoop out and/or cut out the remaining flesh.
2.    Place cantaloupe pieces into a food processor or blender.  Add lime juice, grated ginger, pinch of salt, and sugar – process until smooth.
3.    Taste and adjust any seasonings as desired (for example: add more sugar if you would like this sweeter).
4.    Refrigerate the “soup” until very cold.
5.    Process in an ice cream maker per your machine’s instructions.  Transfer the sorbet to an air tight container and freeze for a minimum of a couple of hours.
6.    In a wineglass add a couple scoops of cantaloupe sorbet, top with a splash of Prosecco or champagne if desired, and garnish with freshly chopped strawberries and mint.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Gundel's Hungarian Dumplings

Today’s post on Gundel’s Hungarian Dumplings is a result of the Daring Cooks July challenge.  Steph from Stephfood was our Daring Cooks July hostess. Steph challenged us to make homemade noodles without the help of a motorized pasta machine. She provided us with recipes for Spätzle and Fresh Egg Pasta as well as a few delicious sauces to pair our noodles with! Steph’s recipe was for a German spatzel and ended up being quite similar in ingredients, except for exchanging milk for water, to a Hungarian dumpling which I have decided to focus upon instead.

I found this recipe many years ago in a cookbook or article devoted to the famous restaurant Gundel located in Budapest, Hungary.  The restaurant with its beautiful outdoor terrace seating and strolling gypsy violinists has very fond memories for me.  After college I worked for a year and then decided to finally do a long awaited backpacking trip through Europe.  I would be gone for a couple of months and had no firm itinerary, just a list of countries I wanted to see with friends and an unlimited Eurail Youth pass.  My father was born in Hungary and was eager for me to see that area of the world, and agreed to my plans with his blessings (and some well needed cash!).  In the era before cell phones or mass availability of the internet he had just two requirements.  Call him collect every Tuesday evening to check in from wherever I was, and meet him at Gundel in Budapest, Hungary at 7 pm for dinner two months later.

It was a wonderful meal – and I don’t know who was prouder- me or my dad - that I showed up, on time, two months later on the other side of the world for our dinner plans.   These dumplings were on the menu that night – and will always remind me of my Eastern European roots and of my father.

Gundel’s Hungarian Dumplings
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
2 large eggs
½ tsp salt
2/3 cup water
1) Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.
2) In a small bowl whisk together the water and eggs with a fork and pour over the dry ingredients which have been measured into a separate large bowl.  Mix well together with your hands until a rough, sticky and slightly elastic dough is formed.
3) Dump the dough onto a cutting board and spread it out a little flat with your hands.
4) With a knife “cut” thin slices of dough off the board – directly into the boiling water.
5) Cook until the pieces float to the top – about 4 minutes.
6) Scoop out dumplings with a slotted spoon and let drain of excess water.
7) Serve while still warm with a topping of chopped bell peppers (red or yellow), sour cream, parsley and paprika.

Hungarian Dumplings are rustic dumplings, mostly a vehicle for their toppings.  Also typical to the country is that they embrace some favorite local ingredients: red peppers, paprika, and sour cream.  Delicious!  These are wonderful served with a side of Chicken Paprikash.  Just make sure to serve these warm, and quickly - they don't reheat well and get thickly textured once they are cold.

Please come see what the other Daring Cooks created for their homemade noodle challenge!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cream Scones with Currants

“Oh…WOW!”, was the sentiment expressed after one bite of these Cream Scones from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Kitchen (p. 27).  And I’ll say it again – WOW.  Thank you Dorie for such a perfect recipe!  And also for expanding my horizons, as I had never baked with (let alone tasted) currants before! 

This was the perfect recipe to ease me back into blogging after a summer holiday out of the kitchen: less than 10 minutes of hands on time including measuring ingredients, but a huge reward.  I did take the lazy (or shall I say efficient) way out and used the food processor to make my dough.  It turned out perfect and just needed a quick knead to come together and incorporate the currants, which I added at the last moment.  (The recipe seems to have forgot to mention when to add the currants, but adding them at the end worked perfectly as they definitely shouldn’t have been chopped up by the food processor.)

This Cream Scone recipe is extremely moist in the center due to the heavy cream, but still firm and crumbly on the corners.  The sweet currants are a more delicate and perhaps tarter alternative to a typical large raisin.  The taste almost like a cross between a raisin and cherry – that has been shrunk so no chopping necessary in small pastries. 

To amp up the sweetness factor I took an extra step of brushing the scones with cream and sprinkling on some Demera sugar before baking.  An amazing complement I think. 
Serve with some raspberries preserves and this is a breakfast or tea time made in heaven!

Please visit Tuesdays with Dorie to see how the other baker’s scones turned out – and if you’d like the recipe to make your own batch you can find it on Lynne of Café Lynnylu’s blog.  Click here for the link to the recipe!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Walnut Baklava with Homemade Phyllo Dough

Baklava with Homemade Phyllo Dough.  Well, I think I can safely file this recipe under “Things I Will Never Make Again” – at least with homemade phyllo dough.  There is a REASON the premade frozen phyllo dough sold at fine grocery stores is expensive – it’s worth every penny!

Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.

I thought I would get into a rhythm of rolling and stretching out the 18 layers of dough, one at a time to a paper thin stage.  But no….if it is possible my last layers may have looked even worse than my first layers.  Full of holes, punctures, and thick non-transparent spots.  A disaster!  If you have any semblance of fingernails this is a hopeless effort…

As I rolled out each dough I floured them heavily and stacked them on top of each other, as instructed.  After the last piece was finally rolled out I put my baking dish on top to measure the necessary size of dough, and cut around.  Then I lifted up the dish and “Ta Da”!  All 18 layers of phyllo dough had compressed back into one very thick round of dough.  You know those times in the kitchen you feel like screaming?  Yeah, this was one….

I count myself victorious with this recipe already because I managed (just barely) to keep myself under control and not throw the puck of dough onto the floor in a rage.  It was possible to peel back some very thick layers (now actually probably 4 layers squished together) to salvage some work.  And the edges of the phyllo that were not under the baking dish were able to be (thickly) rerolled and stretched.

Where once I was to have 18 light and transparent layers in my baklava, I now had probably a total of 10 thick and definitely opaque layers.  At this point I figured it was useless to waste expensive pistachios, so this is a purely walnut baklava!  And it is as I put it to my husband – a “walnut cake/pie thing”.  To call it a baklava would be an insult to baklavas everywhere I’m sure.

I wanted to hate this recipe – I really did!  But…. It’s delicious….thick layers and all! However I’ve learned one thing for sure – I’ll be purchasing my phyllo dough in the future!

If you want to tackle this recipe, homemade phyllo dough and all, please visit Erica’s Edibles for the complete walkthrough!