Friday, April 10, 2009

Cinnamon Raisin Whirls

I made these for a group of nurses visiting our mosque. I could not be present during their visit, but found out later that the whirls were very well-received. In fact, some of the guests realized that they were homemade, and asked for the recipe which we emailed to them. The headmistress of the nursing school replied back, thanking and informing us that they made copies of the recipe and distributed them in class. The recipe is adapted from California Culinary Academy's Breads book.

When I made these, I rolled the dough into 2 18" by 7" rectangles instead of a 18" by 14" rectangle, thus making 24 smaller whirls rather than 12 larger ones. Also, 1/3 c of butter seemed too generous to spread inside the whirls, so I used less.
  • 2 packages (4 1/2 tsp) active dry yeast
  • 1/2 c warm (105 to 115 F) water
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 2/3 c warm (105 to 115 F) milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c (8 tbs) softened unsalted butter
  • 5 to 5 1/2 c flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 c butter, softened (i used less)
  • 1 c raisins
  • Powdered Sugar Icing (Combine 3/4 c confectioners' sugar, 1 tsp softened butter, 1/4 tsp vanilla extract in a small bowl; gradually blend in 1 to 1 1/2 tbs water until icing is of drizzling consistency.)
  • Cinnamon Sugar (mix 3/4 c sugar with 1 tbs ground cinnamon)
Sprinkle yeast over warm water in your mixer's bowl. Let stand until the yeast is soft (about 5 minutes).

Add remaining sugar, milk, salt and the 1/2 c softened butter.

Add 3 c of the flour. Mix to blend, then beat at medium speed until smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes). Seperate one of the eggs; reserve the white for glaze. Beat in egg yolk and whole egg, one at a time, beating until smooth after each addition. Stir in about 2 more cups of flour to make a soft dough.

Turn dough onto a board dusted with some of the remaining 1/2 c of flour. Knead until dough is smooth and satiny and small bubbles form just under surface (12 to 15 minutes), adding just enough flour to prevent dough from being sticky.

Turn dough in a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel; let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hrs).

Punch down dough. Cover with inverted bowl and let rest for 10 minutes.

Roll dough out on to a floured surface into a 14" by 18" rectangle. Spread evenly with the 1/3 c butter (i used less), then sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar. Sprinkle evenly with raisins. Starting from the 18" side, roll dough jelly-roll fashion; moisten a long edge and pinch to seal. Cut roll into 12 equal slices.

Arrange slices, cut sides down, in a well-greased 9" by 13" baking pan. Cover lightly with waxed paper. Let rise until doubled in bulk (45 minutes to 1 hour). Preheat oven to 375 F.

In a small bowl, beat reserved egg white with 1 tsp of water. Brush lightly over rolls. Bake until well browned (25 to 30 minutes.) Drizzle warm rolls with Powdered Sugar Icing, then serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Rice Pudding as I Like it

My least favorite amongst dairy desserts is rice pudding, but this version I found in Kate Zuckerman's The Sweet Life is an acception to the rule. It is still a rice pudding, but Kate Zuckerman's technique sets it apart from the traditional rice pudding as we know it. She first cooks the rice in coconut milk, and then mixes it with a rich custard base flavored with cardamom. Another flavor combination she suggests is lemon verbena and tangerine. For that, you can use 2 tablespoons of dried lemon verbena tea and the zest of a tangerine for the custard (instead of the cardamom and vanilla), and strain it before you mix it with the cooked rice.

We served the puddings after an Indian inspired dinner with friends. I embellished them with slivered pistachios and Turkish rose jam; a decidedly Persian touch, as the complexity of the flavor of the pudding reminded me of some Persian poetry I love. It seems that good food speaks to my soul as much as good poetry. This was definitely one of the best dairy desserts I had.

For the Rice:
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbs basmati rice
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1 can (13 1/2 oz) coconut milk
  • 1 c milk
  • pinch of salt
For the Custard:
  • 16 cardamom pods
  • 1/2 c plus 2 tbs sugar
  • 1 c whole milk
  • 2 c heavy cream
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325 F. First rinse the rice, then place it in an ovenproof pan with 2 cups of water. As soon as it comes to a boil, take it off the heat and strain immediately. Discard the starchy water. Put the rice back in the pan; add the milk, coconut milk, sugar and salt. Bring to a second boil, cover the pan and put it in the oven for 30 minutes or so, until the rice absorbs all the liquid. You can add an extra 5 to 10 minutes if there is still unabsorbed milk in the pan.

For the custard base, crush the cardamom pods. Combine them in a saucepan with sugar, milk and cream. Bring the mixture to a simmer and turn off the heat. Let the cardamom seeds steep for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks, egg and 2 tbs sugar and whisk for a minute. Ladle some of the hot cardamom flavored cream into the egg mixture, then slowly pour the warmed and diluted egg mixture into the hot cream, taking care to whisk as you pour.

Cook the custard on medium heat, stirring continuously, until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Take it off the heat and strain to get rid of the cardamom pods and seeds. Combine the custard with the cooked basmati rice. Mix gently until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Add the vanilla extract and let cool before you serve it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chocolate Covered Pistachio Cookies

Although nowadays I prefer bittersweet chocolate to milk chocolate, I still favor milk chocolate when the occasion calls for pairing chocolate with nuts. It must be homage to those childhood years when my favorite snack was a bar of pistachio-decked milk chocolate. I would have loved to make these cookies with milk chocolate, but I did not have any at home, so I used bittersweet chocolate instead. The recipe is from Martha Stewart's website. Some commentors reported problems with the cookie dough and ganache filling, but I had no difficulty with the execution of the recipe. The problem did arise, however, when it was time to chocolate-coat the filled cookies. To temper or not to temper was my dilemma. I previously experienced blooming with cookies that I made with untempered chocolate coating; so although the recipe did not call for tempering, I strongly felt that I should take the extra step. As it turns out, I do not find tempering difficult or troublesome. When you are working with an ingredient as temperamental as chocolate, tempering is a small price to pay in order to coax it into a well-behaved state. But once you have tempered it, how do you keep it there? I had not even considered this before I started tempering, and did not worry much about it as I dipped the cookies. They all looked fine first; but you could easily tell the ones without tempered chocolate the next morning.

Here is an unruly one without temper...

... as opposed to these with tempered chocolate coating...

I wonder if there are some amongst you who have a practical (and economical) solution to preserving the state of temper once it is achieved. People suggested sprouting pads and electric blankets, but I would like to hear if someone really tried these with success. So please drop a comment if you have any such experience. Meanwhile these cookies are really delicious, and I strongly recommend that you give them a try. If you dip them not too long before you'll serve them, I'm sure that you will not have any problems even if you do not temper the chocolate.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Very Busy Baking Day

Two weeks ago, I had a very busy baking day. To be exact, I made 4 Chestnut and White Chocolate Cheesecakes, 4 Chocolate and Pecan Cheesecakes, a Linzer Torte, a Sacher Torte, lots of Chocolate Hazelnut Sables, Raspberry Macarons and Chocolate Crumb Bars. Fortunately, the weather was on my side, and I was able to use our front porch as a walk-in refrigerator. As intense as that experience was, I really enjoyed it; in fact, I confess that it left me craving for more.

Here is the last half-slice of my Chocolate and Pecan Cheesecakes. This happens to be one of the first recipes of Our Patisserie (posted more than 3 years ago). Chestnut and White Chocolate Cheesecakes were the more popular of the two, and they have vanished without any leftovers; so also has my yearly stock of homemade chestnut puree. I am very happy for being able to share one of my favorite desserts with a large group of friends, but I am also painfully aware of that void in my freezer where my ziplocked packages of chestnut puree once resided. Since chestnuts are very expensive once again, I don't think that I will attempt to make more chestnut puree at this point. My only hope for replenishing my stocks is to buy reasonably priced chestnut puree from Turkey this summer. Until then, no more chestnutty desserts in Our Patisserie.

The recipe for these cute sables comes from P Herme and D Greenspan's Chocolate Desserts. Until recently, baking a cake would be more appealing to me than baking cookies; but some cookie recipes in that book have changed my mind. I really enjoyed making these sables. Now you'll probably think that I am weird, but any cookie that necessitates the use of a ruler for preparation, is worth a try in my book.

A bonus of the sables was the leftover Sweet Tart Pastry, which I used to make some blackberry tartlets. My son (who has a habit of smelling food to decide if he wants to eat it) gingerly took a first bite after the preliminary sniffing, and liked them so much that he ended up eating my share as well.

What you see here is my adaptation of the Sacher torte. Judging only by some recipes claiming to deliver results very close to the original, I have no idea why Sacher torte is as famous as it is. I hate the idea of a dry cake, so my adaptation was a moister cake sprinkled with apricot syrup and filled with a chunky dried apricot filling. What's with the pistachios? My glaze was not smooth on the sides, so I had to camouflage. This is the second time these beautiful sliced pistachios have come to the rescue to cover up sides, but they contribute in taste, too.

I made this Linzer torte for the Viennese ball my son's class hosted. It was the first time I made a Linzer torte and I could not attend the event, so I have no firsthand idea of how it turned out. I confess that I ate the crumbs when the empty plate was returned, but that is not the same as eating a whole slice. My son reported that it was more popular than my adapted Sacher torte. The crumbs were quite tasty, too. I will have to make it again for us.

After all that baking, I ended up with a couple of leftover egg whites. In my case, just the sight of egg whites is a temptation to make macarons. My last few attempts at making macarons ended miserably, but I still could not resist. I used Kate Zuckerman's recipe with day-old egg whites and added 1 1/2 tbs freeze-dried raspberry powder to the batter to make the raspberry shells. The filling was raspberry sauce infused buttercream. I was generally pleased with the result, but I could not help but notice that the lovely color of the shells faded, in fact became beige-ish during baking. I have yet to find the correct temperature/method to make light-colored macarons.

This last dessert was made a couple of days earlier for a friend's guests. It is a chocolate crumb bar made with condensed milk. It is easy to make and transport, and is a definite crowd-pleaser. I'll add the recipe later today.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Catching Up

Here are some desserts that I made in the past couple of weeks. None of them was made following a recipe, although I was inspired by what I saw on some blogs and cookbooks.

Do you enjoy making cake rolls? I really do. First of all, I find them easier and faster to make than regular cakes. Secondly, there is a good deal of satisfaction that comes by completing the task without major cracks. Not that it really matters in the end product, as there are ways to hide the cracks unless they are really big. Something that is more difficult to hide is when the roll refuses to look like a roll and settles into an oblong or a semi-circle. Because of the practicality and the intrigue factor involved, I find myself turning to rolls whenever I fancy making a cake but do not feel like following a recipe from a cookbook.

The cake you see below was made at the end of December, last year. The decoration idea came from a Martha Stewart yule log. I thought it would be nice to make a Black Forest log, so I used chocolate genoise, cherry flavored syrup, mascarpone cream and cherries. Of course, this is a winning combination as far as taste is concerned. But, in my case, I was not successful with the genoise. On top of it, I used too much syrup to sprinkle on the cake causing it both to crack and lose its shape. The other difficulty was that the chocolate bark easily melted with the warmth of my hand, so I had to take several breaks to chill the chocolate until I finished the task. I learnt how to temper chocolate since then, and I think that tempering is the way to go with this kind of project. It certainly makes chocolate much easier to handle. In spite of the difficulties and misfortunes encountered, the end result looked and tasted good.

This second roll looks a little better. I had some chestnut paste and defrosted white chocolate-cream cheese buttercream sitting in my refrigerator for some time. Neither amounted --quantitywise-- to anything by itself, so I decided to combine them. This made enough filling for a cake roll. Since I like matcha-chestnut pairings, I made a matcha flavored hot milk sponge cake for the occasion. There was no leftover filling to frost the cake, so we simply dusted the top with matcha lightened with confectioners' sugar. Tiny cracks were still visible, but it was light and tasty.

Here is something else that I put together for my daughter's in-class birthday party. When she visited France last year, she brought us violet syrup from Alsace. She fondly remembers those days, so I thought that it would be nice to make her violet cupcakes. I was initially thinking white chocolate as a nice decor for the candied violets, but they were already quite sweet. So I paired them with dark chocolate instead. I used violet syrup to wet the cakes, but the aroma was difficult to detect in the cupcakes. Although I could not achieve what I was after, I liked the way the cupcakes looked. They were delicious, too; if not in a violet-y way.

After finally making Plaisir Sucre, I started fantacizing about working my way through the P Herme books I own, to try everything. I wanted to make his Faubourg Pave next. But reality dictated otherwise: I had chestnut puree in my refrigerator that needed to be put to use immediately. So instead of the Pave, I made a layered cake with hot milk-sponge cake, coffee syrup and chestnut cream. My mind was still with the Pave as I made it, so my creation inevitably looked like it. In the end, I was pleased with both the look and the taste. My finicky daughter even asked me which cookbook it was from.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Plaisir Sucre

I finally got around to making Plaisir Sucre from Pierre Herme and Dorie Greenspan's Chocolate Desserts. So much has already been said about this dessert, but I still want to add my two pence's worth of praises to the collection. This probably was the most fulfilling baking/cooking experience that I had. The well-written book took me step by step along the somewhat lengthy preparation, and when the components of the dessert were ready, it was such great fun to bring them together to build the dessert. Although bad weather and poor lighting conditions normally annoy me when I am taking pictures, even those did not dampen my spirit in this case. Then came the time to serve... When my husband seemed more interested in other things, I simply asked him to try it later, for this is one dessert that deserves full attention and appreciation. Why, it even demands it by its construction. You can not absentmindedly pop a forkfull in your mouth; that first bite requires some thinking and strategic planning. I must confess that the evil chef in me had fun watching my intimidated guests planning how to attack what was on their plates, the next day. But all that fun combined does not even come close to the sweet pleasure of eating it. What a deserving name! It revived that old passion I had for milk chocolate in my younger years. Once again, I thought that pastry can be an art form, and Plaisir Sucre comes very close to being an example of an ultimate artwork as it pleases all the senses at once. One cannot help but feel humble before the genius of Pierre Herme in creating this dessert.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


I made a lemon curd based berry trifle the other day. The egg whites left over from the lemon curd stayed on the kitchen countertop until next day. When I noticed them next morning, I thought of making macarons. This time, I started with a new recipe (Hazelnut Macarons from The Sweet Life by Kate Zuckerman) and tweaked it a little to make coffee macarons with a coffee-caramel filling. The result was not-overly-sweet, decidedly adult macarons. My youngest daughter posed with them, but did not want to taste them when I mentioned "coffee". Other family members and friends thought that they were very good. This was a succesful macaron experience. I could have enjoyed them and moved on with my life.

But once you start making macarons, it's difficult to stop; so before I knew it, I found myself on a macaron roll. This time, I wanted to make lavender macarons. I defrosted some of the cream cheese-white chocolate buttercream in my freezer, and flavored it with a lavender-infused sugar syrup. It turns out that lavender is a good flavoring for white chocolate. To incorporate lavender flavor into the macaron shells, I mixed some dried lavender in the confectioners' sugar and let it sit for a day. When it was time to process the nuts and sugar, I left the lavender in, too; and then sieved the mixture as best as I could. The result was very fine bits of lavender in the nut mixture. I proceeded with the Kate Zuckerman recipe, but in this case, the eggs were not day old. Since the recipe did not particularly say so, I did not think that this would be a problem. I don't know, maybe it wasn't; it may also have been the tiny amount of food coloring I added on a whim (which did not disperse in the batter as it should, and resulted in marbled macarons). Whatever the culprit was, two hours later, my macarons were not as dry as they should be. By then, it was 2:00am in the morning, so I baked them anyway and got feetless, and in some intances cracked shells. The taste, on the brighter side, was quite lavendery; so I do not consider this an altogether failed experience. No, the rose macaron experiment that came next was the real disaster, so much so that I will only mention it in the passing. But I would like to pose this question to the seasoned macaron bakers among you: What is your technique to flavor the macaron shells? Could it be that it is only the filling carries the flavor? I would really like to know the answer as I now want to get past the obvious coffee, matcha, chocolate etc. flavorings with macarons. I'll appreciate any feedback on this.

Coming back to what worked, here is my adaptation of the Kate Zuckerman recipe:

  • 5 oz almond flour
  • 8 oz confectioners' sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 egg whites, aged at room temperature for a day
  • 1/6 c sugar
  • A pinch of cream of tartar
  • 2 tsp instant coffee granules (divided)
  • 6 oz dulce de leche
Process the almond flour, 1/2 c of the confectioners' sugar and 1 tsp of instant coffee granules to a fine powder, stopping the food processor a few times to scrape and toss the nut mixture. Mix it with the remainder of the confectioners' sugar and salt in a clean bowl.

In a large clean and dry bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar on medium speed until foamy. Increase the speed to high and gradually add granulated sugar. Continue to beat to stiff peaks. Gently fold in the dry ingredients into egg whites until completely incorporated.

Pipe the batter onto parchment paper or silpat-lined baking sheets. Tap the baking sheets a few times to remove air bubbles. Let dry at room temperature for 1 or 2 hours until the macaron shells feel dry to touch.

Bake at 350F, one sheet at a time, for about 15 minutes. Let the macaron shells cool a little before you remove them from baking sheets.

For the filling, dissolve 1 tsp instant coffee granules in 1 to 1 1/2 tsp boiling water. Use this to dilute dulce de leche to spreading consistency; you can use more hot water if necessary. Pair matching macaron shells and sandwich them with some coffee-flavored dulce de leche. Press the shells together so that the filling is visible.