Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Maple Leaf Cookies

I love maple and wanted to create a recipe that incorporates this flavor and celebrates the season. I found these cookie cutters at my mom's house this past weekend and decided to make maple flavored cookies in the shape of maple leaves. I used brown sugar in the recipe to enrich the maple flavor. You can also add a little maple syrup instead of maple extract, although this won't have as intense of a flavor.

I iced the cookies with a simple recipe, flavored with the maple extract. I use a little bit of corn syrup in the icing to ensure the cookies have a nice glossy shine to them. The cookies will stay shiny and beautiful and they taste amazing.

The dough can be made ahead and kept in the fridge or freezer until ready to use.

Maple Leaf Cookies

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons maple extract
1/4 cup maple syrup (optional)

1. In mixer cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
2. Beat in maple syrup, extract and egg yolk until mixture is well combined.
3. Sift together salt and flour. Mix into dough until just incorporated (do not overmix).
4. Chill dough, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, about 2 hours or overnight. Dough may also be made ahead and frozen.

5. Preheat oven to 350°F.
6. Divide dough in half. Keeping one half chilled, lightly flour other half and on a lightly floured surface gently pound with a rolling pin to soften. Roll out dough 1/8 inch thick and with a maple-leaf cookie cutter cut out cookies. Continue with rest of dough.
7.Arrange cookies on baking sheets lined with parchment.
8. Bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes until edges begin to brown. Allow to cool completely before decorating.

Maple Icing

1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2 tablespoons maple extract

Mix all ingredients adding more corn syrup if too thick. Spread over cookies and allow icing to fully set. Cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to a week.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pecan Pie

For my pecan pie this year I used Pierre Herme's recipe for sweet tart dough from his book Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme. This dough adds a lot of flavor to the pie and offers a cookie-like crust with a buttery crumble to it. I am also planning to use it for my pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving.

To get the best texture in your pie crust, it is important to work the dough as little as possible. This means that when mixing in the flour, you only want to mix until the flour is just blended into the dough. If the dough is still crumbly and dry, pour the mix onto a floured surface and mix it gently by hand to incorporate all the flour.

It is also very important to let the dough "rest" in the fridge for at least 2 hours (best results for 24 hours) before rolling it out. This provides the flour in the dough time to relax and prevents the dough from shrinking in the oven when you bake your pie. See my Saffron Apple Tart entry for tips on how to line a tart shell.

My sister received these adorable mini pie cutters from Crate and Barrel for her birthday this year, and I used them to decorate the top of my pecan pie. Just cut out shapes when you line your tart pan and reserve to decorate the top of the pie before baking.

Sweet Tart Dough
Makes 3 10" Tarts

2 1/2 sticks butter
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 cup almond powder or finely ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1. Mix butter on low speed in standing mixer until very smooth.
2. Add the powdered sugar, almond flour, salt, vanilla and eggs and mix until smooth, do not raise speed.
3. Add the flour and mix until just combined. Place dough on floured surface and finish mixing by hand. Wrap dough and place in fridge for at least 2 hours.
4. Line a 10" tart pan and allow to rest in fridge for at least an hour.

Pecan Pie

Makes 10" Pie

1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup corn syrup
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar

5 eggs

3oz butter, melted

1# pecans

1. Mix first 4 ingredients well, scraping sides of bowl to ensure mixture is well blended.
2. Add eggs and mix well.
3. Add butter and mix.
4. Mix in pecans by hand and pour mixture into prelined tart shell.
5. Decorate with precut pie dough shapes.

5. Bake at 325 degrees for about 50 minutes.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Acai Mousse Tart with Acai Mirror Glaze

Inspired to create a glittery, shiny, light reflecting dessert for this month's Sugar High Friday, I knew right away I would use some sort of mirror glaze. This month's theme, All That Glitters, allowed me the opportunity to work with a berry I have never personally used before in my desserts and have rarely seen at bakeries around town. It just so happens that this month is also my sister Caroline's birthday and she absolutely loves acai berries.

The acai berry is incredibly nutritious and not only is it the highest antioxidant fruit, the sustainable harvesting of it helps preserve the Amazon rain forest. It is definitely less sweet than your typical berry and has a dark berry/cocoa flavor to it. For this reason, I chose to cut the flavor a bit with some pomegranate and blueberry in my mousse.

You can find acai in juice form and frozen puree form at your grocery store. I used Sambazon puree and juices as well as Bossa Nova juice throughout my recipes. Sambazon offers acai puree, which worked great for creating my mousse. Bossa Nova offered a pure acai juice, which helped to create my mirror glaze.

Since acai is a relatively recently discovered fruit, I could not find any dessert recipes using it. I decided to adapt a couple of recipes and things turned out pretty well.

I started with my pre-baked sweet dough tart crust, then filled it with a white chocolate ganache with crushed pistachios. I then added the acai mousse, inside of which is a orange chiffon cake and topped it all off with an acai mirror glaze.

The flavors paired very nicely and the sweetness of the white chocolate ganache helped since the mousse itself was not actually overly sweet (due to the acai). It seems like a lot of steps to put together, but the whole process can be easily spread over several days (which is in fact what I did).

I first built the mousse and cake layer, then froze it for a day. Then I prebaked the tart shell and filled it with the ganache to set. I then glazed the mousse and set it on top of the ganache to defrost. My sister loved her birthday cake and I hope you will too!

Orange Chiffon Cake
Makes 2 cakes (8" each)

1 # cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1# sugar
1# 5oz egg yolks
8 fl oz vegetable oil
8 fl oz orange juice
1 Tbs vanilla
1# 5oz egg whites
1 orange, zest

1. Sift the dry ingredients together and mix with 1/3 of sugar.
2. Combine yolks, oil, juice, zest, vanilla in mixer. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Pour into larger bowl and set aside.
3. Whip the whites on medium speed until soft peaks form (you will see white foam). Increase speed and gradually add the remaining sugar. Continue to whip to create a medium peak meringue.
4. Gently fold 1/3 of meringue into yolk mixture to fully combine. Fold in rest of meringue.
5. Divide into two lined cake pans and bake at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes.
6. Allow cakes to cool completely, then cut the top off of one cake.
7. Brush cake with a simple syrup infused with Cointreau (boil 1 cup sugar with 1 cup water then add 1 tablespoon Cointreau)
8. Place in fridge or freezer until ready to use.

*In this tart I only use one of the cakes. You can wrap and freeze the second cake to use at another time.

White Chocolate Ganache with Crushed Pistachios

1/2 cup pistachios, ground
1/2 # white chocolate
1/2 cup cream

1. Bring cream to a boil then pour over chocolate. Stir to fully combine and melt the chocolate.
2. Add pistachios and mix well.
3. Pour into prebaked tart shell and spread evenly. Allow to set in fridge.

Acai Mousse

1/2 cup water
13g gelatin (powder)

3oz sugar
2oz water

500g Acai puree (thawed) *if you can't find puree, you can also use acai juice

10oz cream

1. Whip cream to soft peaks and set aside in fridge.
2. Whisk first measure of water with gelatin and allow to set for about 2 minutes.
3. Bring sugar and water to a boil, then remove from heat. Immediately mix in gelatin.
4. Combine this mixture with acai puree in a large bowl, stirring to combine.
5. Allow mixture to cool completely and just start to set. It is important to stir this mixture constantly so that you don't end up with acai jello. This is made much easier by having an ice bath ready. Have a larger bowl full of ice and water to place the acai mixture bowl inside. Continue to stir.
6. Once mixture has just started to gel, gently fold in the whipped cream.
7. Line the bottom of a 10" springform pan with plastic wrap. Pour 1/2 of acai mousse into bottom.
8. Place prepared cake (brushed with syrup) into center of mousse and press down.
9. Pour remainder of acai mousse on top and place in freezer to set.

Acai Mirror Glaze

10oz Acai juice
1 pkg gelatin

1. Mix ingredients in saucepan over low heat for about 25 seconds to just dissolve the gelatin.
2. Pour on top of frozen mousse (still inside of springform pan). Return to fridge to set.

3. Once mirror glaze has set, remove (still frozen) mousse from springform pan and place on top of tart shell (prefilled with ganache).
4. Allow mousse to fully defrost before serving.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Chocolate Caramel Bars

My sister found an old pile of recipes we had cut out from Bon Appetit magazine and we decided to try this one. We were both drawn to the sea salt flakes on top of the chocolate glaze and were excited to see how it enhanced the flavor of the caramel center.

The full recipe can be found on epicurious. The sea salt on top is essential to this dessert and just a few flakes will alter the dish dramatically. The salt balances the sweetness of the caramel and offers a pleasing complexity to this simple bar.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chocolate Lavender Ice Cream


It's probably pretty obvious by now that I adore floral extracts and use them frequently in my desserts. Lavender is a favorite of mine and pairs so perfectly with chocolate that I couldn't resist testing out an ice cream that marries both. When used in moderation, lavender can transform a dish. I will never forget the lavender french fries I ate with Kate at Blue Boheme in Kensington.

I use dried lavender buds to infuse the milk in this ice cream recipe. You should be able to find dried lavender at your grocery store, and I actually found mine amongst the mexican spices section.

The following recipe is very simple. I used 72% Valrhona chocolate in my version, and because of this did not want to dilute the complex flavors of the chocolate with any eggs. Valrhona chocolate is considered to be the best chocolate in the world and it is also the most expensive. However, it is available at Trader Joe's for a very fair price. I believe this recipe works very well and results in an incredibly rich and fulfilling ice cream with a silky mouthfeel.

Chocolate Lavender Ice Cream

3 cups whole milk

1/3 cup sugar

1 Tbs lavender buds, dried

8 oz chocolate

1. Bring the milk, sugar, and lavender to a boil. Turn off the heat and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Allow the lavender to infuse the milk for at least 20 minutes.

2. Bring the milk back to a boil and add the chocolate. Stir to melt.

3. Allow the mixture to cool completely in the fridge before churning in an ice cream maker.

I have to apologize for the lack of pictures. This ice cream was so good that we ate it all before I remembered to take any pictures.


Rose and Orange Blossom Macaroons

Rose Water Macaroon

My adoration of French macaroons began two summers ago while visiting my sister, Lindsay, in Paris. We made a habit of opting out of the breakfast our hostel provided each morning and instead visiting the local patisserie for a pastry or more often than not a pistachio macaroon.

I have yet to find a macaroon in America that compares to those from Paris, although I believe the following recipe comes close. The mark of a good macaroon is a paper thin crust that breaks apart with the slightest touch and encases a soft and dense almond center. If made correctly, you will see a distinct and rough border around the bottom of the macaroon and a smooth dome top. The cookies are usually sandwiched with either jam, pastry cream, or chocolate.


My sister and I visited Laduree Patisserie on the Champs Elysees and had the opportunity to taste their macaroons. Macaroons come in a variety of colors and flavors and can be very dramatic when displayed.

Macaroons are extremely delicate and are best enjoyed fresh the day they are made, although will last about a day in the fridge. You can freeze macaroons before sandwiching them, although I would only recommend this method if used for decoration.

I decided to try to replicate the rose macaroon I had tasted on my trip to Vegas. My friend, Amy, has just given me bottles of rose water and orange blossom water so I decided to test out both these in my recipe today. waters

French Macaroon

1/2# Sugar

1 1/2 oz Water

3 1/2 oz Egg Whites

8 3/4oz Almond Powder

8 3/4oz Powdered Sugar

3 1/2oz Egg Whites

1. Sift the almond powder and powdered sugar together and mix with the first measurement of egg whites. This mixture with be very thick and dry at first, but will come together in a nice paste.

2. In a small pot with a candy thermometer attached to the side, bring the sugar and water to 248 degrees Fahrenheit.


3. Begin whisking the second measurement of egg whites when the sugar reaches 238 degrees Fahrenheit so that the whites will be at stiff peaks by the time the sugar is at the desired temperature.

4. Once the sugar reaches 248 degrees, begin slowly pouring into the whites (continuing to whisk in mixer). Continue mixing until the meringue is shiny in appearance.


5. Fold the meringue into the almond powder mixture in three stages. The first fold will lighten the paste and decrease deflation of the egg whites with the second and third fold.

6. At this stage I separated my batch into two bowls to add my food color. I dyed the first batch orange (orange blossom) and the second pink (rose water).

7. Pipe small quarter sized rounds on parchment paper that has been sprayed. It is important that the macaroons are identical in size so that you may later sandwich them. Make sure to leave space between the piped macaroons to allow for spreading.


8. This next step will ensure that your macaroons have the desired crust and the rough border on the bottom. It is also the easiest step. Allow the piped macaroons to "rest" for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour. Leave them at room temperature during this time.

9. Bake at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 to 15 minutes or until their is a distinct crust on the bottom when turned over. Allow to cool

Pastry Cream

3 1/2 cup milk

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

9 egg yolks

6oz butter

2 Tbs Orange Blossom Water

1/2 tsp Orange extract


1 1/2 Tbs Rose Water

1. Combine sugar with the milk over heat and bring to a boil.

2. In bowl, whisk together yolks and cornstarch.

3. Once milk comes to a boil, temper egg mixture with heated milk mixture. Pour a small amount of hot milk over yolks while whisking to incorporate. Add more milk and continue to whisk.

4. Bring the rest of milk mixture to a boil, then add the egg mixture, stirring constantly to avoid clumps. Mixture will thicken and begin to bubble when ready.

5. Remove from heat, add butter and stir to combine. Add flavorings.

5. Pour mixture into a bowl and immediately cover with plastic wrap touching the pastry cream. Place in fridge to solidify.

Once the pastry cream has cooled, pipe between two macaroons and sandwich them together. Yum!


Peace, Love and Chocolate: Vosges Haut-Chocolat

Curry powder, balsamic vinegar, wasabi and...chocolate?

Vosges Haut-Chocolat

Vosges Haut-Chocolat Las Vegas is located in Ceasars Palace. This was our first stop upon arriving in town and definitely started the weekend off with a bang. Katrina Markoff started her specialty gourmet chocolate company in 1998 in Chicago. She began traveling the world to discover and blend new diverse spices with chocolate. Her motto is peace, love, and chocolate and her company focuses on being green and donates a percentage of profits to improving conditions for women throughout the world.

Vosges Haut-Chocolat

At her Las Vegas location, we were welcomed into the store with chocolate offerings and unlimited samples of their various truffles and chocolate bars. The salesclerks were helpful and knowledgeable and allowed us to taste freely.

My favorite truffle was the Naga made from sweet Indian curry powder, coconut milk, and milk chocolate. This is actually Katrina's first ever truffle and by far the best. There is just enough spiciness to offset the sweetness of the milk chocolate and coconut milk. The light dusting of the curry powder on top of the truffle adds a brilliant color, which is echoed throughout her collection of truffles.
Vosges Haut-Chocolat

I next tried the Balsamico truffle which was filled with a 12-year-aged balsamic vinegar and topped with hazelnuts. This truffle was enrobed in dark chocolate which paired wonderfully with the tangy vinegar.
Vosges Haut Chocolat

The above Viola is topped with a candied violet flower petal and is beautiful to behold.

We next tasted the Budapest truffle, which is topped with sweet Hungarian paprika and encased in dark chocolate. Incredibly curious and different.

I tasted a milk chocolate truffle filled with a sweet potato and brown sugar center and enrobed with milk chocolate. This truffle was much too sweet for my tastes.

The Red Fire truffle just makes sense. For those of you who enjoy Mexican Mole, this truffle should satisfy you. It is made from Mexican ancho & chipotle chillies with Ceylon cinnamon and dark chocolate.

Vosges Haut-Chocolat

This chocolate shop is an experience to remember and an inspiration. I plan to attempt these flavor pairings in my own kitchen in the near future.

Although I was not able to try their ice cream flavors, I hope to test one in particular very soon. Curry ice cream made from coconut milk! Maybe I will even try a chocolate ice cream infused with ancho chili peppers. Why not?

Vegas Round 2: Francois Payard Patisserie

Francois Payard

Our next stop in Vegas was to visit Francois Payard's Patisserie & Bistro in Ceasar's Palace. Chef Payard offers an assortment of pastries as well as ice creams and chocolates. You can even order freshly made crepes! His patisserie is warm and inviting, dimly lit and whimsical in decor. In the center is a clock tower adorned with chocolate sculptures turning along with the rotation of the clock dials.

Chef Payard's desserts are exciting and visually astounding. Most importantly the ingredients and flavors maintain a perfect balance while still offering some intriguing combinations for the customer.

I chose to try the Cendrillon and the Sweet Relief. The Cendrillon consisted of pumpkin mousse, cranberry marmalade, ginger and cinnamon. I couldn't resist this dessert as it was adorned with small orange macaroons! The pumpkin mousse was not overpowering in flavor and quite light in texture. The cranberry marmalade in the center offered a nice burst of flavor to offset the mousse itself.
Francois Payard

The Sweet Relief was simply decorated, but the construction of the dessert itself intrigued me. I could not figure out how Chef Payard had encased the dessert so perfectly in the swiss meringue. Had he dipped it? Piped it? I had to cut it open to investigate.

This second dessert consisted of a mango mousse with a pinapple souffle. Inside were pieces of roasted pineapple and the entire pastry of course was covered with swiss meringue.

The tropical fruit flavors were a nice change of pace. The pineapple pieces inside the mango mousse added an exciting element of surprise to the dessert. The sweetness of the meringue offset the tartness and acidity of the fruit. Overall this dessert was well balanced and extremely satisfying.

Francois Payard

I recommend enjoying a double espresso at the fountain outside the patisserie after you have tasted your pastries. The espresso here is wonderful.

Every time I see a picture of Chef Payard he is so sincerely happy. It is clear he truly loves what he does and wants you to enjoy it as much as he does. His cookbooks are unpretentious and cater to the homebaker. I recommend his Simply Sensational Desserts.
Francois Payard

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween everyone! Last night I carved pumpkins with some friends and with all the seeds we accrued from 4 large pumpkins I had to try out a few pumpkin seed recipes! I tested 2 savory recipes; one made with red pepper flakes and the other with curry powder. In the end, the seeds tasted the best when mixed in a bowl together so all the seasonings combined. However, I realize not everyone enjoys curry powder and it is most certainly an option in this recipe.

You may also add other seasonings of your choice. I added my favorite Mexican seasoned salt,
Tajin. Tajin can be tricky to find, usually located at specialty food stores, but can also be ordered online. I have actually seen it at Target before as well. This seasoning salt goes with anything from sweet mangos to cucumbers to guacamole to soup.

Spicy Curry Pumpkin Seeds

pumpkin seeds, fresh

olive oil



red pepper flakes

curry powder

Preheat oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. Thoroughly rinse your fresh pumpkin seeds and remove any excess pulp that remains. Dry on a towel then transfer to a bowl. Drizzle seeds with olive oil and sprinkle seasonings on top to taste. Mix seeds with spices then spread out on a baking sheet that has been coated with cooking spray (may also line with aluminum foil then spray). Bake seeds for 1 hour at 275 degrees Fahrenheit turning seeds with spatula every 15 minutes to cook evenly. Cool and enjoy!

What Happened in Vegas...


I decided calories don't count if they are accrued while conducting research.

Only three of the countless pastry shops I visited during my weekend in Vegas stood out from the others as innovative, fresh and inspiring. Jean-Philippe Patisserie at the Bellagio, Francois Payard Patisserie at Ceasar's Palace, and Vosges Haut-Chocolat at Ceasar's Palace.

As you walk into Jean-Philippe's Patisserie at the Bellagio you are greeted by a beautiful glass sculpture which also functions as the world's largest chocolate fountain. Chocolate is literally pouring from the ceiling in various forms and hues. If this doesn't catch your eye and draw you in, the bright and vibrant colors from the pastry case should do the trick.

The first pastry I tasted at Jean-Philippe's Patisserie was his Rose Macaroon. This dessert was composed of fresh raspberries and rose infused pastry cream sandwiched between two almond macaroons and topped with a sugared rose petal.

This was by far the best dessert I tasted all weekend and quite possibly the best I have ever tasted.

It was infused with just enough rose to enhance and compliment the tartness of the raspberries and the sweet nuttiness of the macaroon. The macaroon was perfectly baked; a soft and chewy center surrounded by a paper thin crust. The colors and textures of this pastry added to the overall affect and experience when cutting into this wonderful piece of art.

The second dessert I tasted at the Bellagio was Jean-Philippe's Chocobanana. This dessert was composed of a hazelnut crust, chocolate mousse, and caramelized bananas. It was beautifully presented and the flavors and textures worked wonderfully together.

Although I wasn't able to taste another bite, the following pictures are of a few of the other pastries available at the patisserie.



Saffron Apple Tart

This Sunday morning I went apple picking with a few friends in Julian, CA. I had never had the opportunity to taste an apple this fresh and was pleasantly surprised to find a noticeable difference in the complexity of flavor of these Julian apples to those found in a grocery store. Since it was the last weekend the orchard was open to the public, all the reachable branches had been picked over, forcing us to climb the trees to reach the prime apples up top. Even so, it took us less than an hour to pick about 30 pounds of apples. I am now on a mission to test out several apple centered recipes this week to best enjoy our abundance of apples before they fade.

I'll first start with a classic apple dessert, with a twist. In this recipe for Apple Tart, I infuse the apples with saffron. Saffron is one of my favorite spices to use. It adds such subtle depth and richness to a dish, not to mention beautiful color. Although saffron is the most expensive spice, a very small amount will make all the difference in the world. For example, in this recipe we only use an 1/8 teaspoon of saffron threads. Trader Joe's now sells saffron at an extremely affordable rate.

Sweet Dough

Makes enough for 2 10'" Tarts

4 cups bread flour

2 1/2 sticks butter, room temperature

3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted

1/2 tsp salt

2 eggs

1tsp vanilla extract

Mix butter on low speed in standing mixer until very smooth. Add the powdered sugar and mix until smooth, do not raise speed. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until well combined. Add the flour and mix until just combined. Place dough on floured surface and finish mixing by hand. Wrap dough and place in fridge for at least an hour. This allows the flour in the dough to rest and makes for a more delicate tart shell.

After dough has rested, roll into a circle about 1/4" thick on a floured surface . Gently wrap dough around rolling pin and place on top of the tart pan. Press dough into groves of tart pan and around bottom edges. Roll pin over top to cut off excess dough. Reserve this excess dough in fridge for later use. Allow lined tart pan to rest in fridge while you prepare the apples.

Saffron Apple Tart

Enough for 10" tart

1 1/2# apples

6 Tbs butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp cardamom

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/8 tsp saffron

1/8 tsp nutmeg

1/8 tsp saffron

Peel, core, and cut the apples into even slices. Melt the butter then add the apple slices. Pour the dry ingredients on top and mix. Heat mixture over low heat for about 8 minutes or until the apples are just becoming tender. This process allows the saffron flavors to infuse the apples before the baking process begins.

Pour the apples into the pre-lined tart shell. Roll out reserved excess sweet dough and cut into strips. Weave the strips on top of the tart. Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for about 1 hour, or until crust is browned. Enjoy!