no-tella buttons; a tuesdays with dorie post

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Another Tuesday, another recipe from Baking Chez Moi.  This week, we chose to prepare the Nutella Buttons, tiny little cupcakes with a secret filling surprise and a glaze of ganache.  What’s not to love?  Actually, if you are me, it’s the Nutella.  Hard to believe since Nutella is so popular but it just isn’t something I go crazy for.  In truth, it is just not the right chocolate flavor for me; I prefer a dark chocolate to a milk chocolate.


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The batter was a quick and easy one to mix and they baked up just as fast.  Do yourself a favor, buy a scale and use the weights listed for each ingredient rather than the cup measurement.  Although I began by measuring the powdered sugar using cups, on a whim I decided to weigh it.  What a difference!  My cup measurement was off by nearly 20 grams and while that does not sound like much, it is nearly an ounce and with a recipe this small, it could have had a huge impact on the results.


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Now back to the secret filling.  When I saw that I would need to buy a jar of Nutella, I thought it would be better to choose a spread that I would enjoy and might actually use.  My first choice was Dark Chocolate Dreams by Peanut Butter and Company.  And because I can never do anything simply, I also picked up a jar of Speculoos Crunchy Cookie Butter from Trader Joe’s.


IMG_3632Using a small portion scoop for the batter and spoons for the spreads, I had a full tray of little cakes ready to bake in just a few minutes.

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Both of these spreads are pretty tasty but as always, I prefered one to the other and surprisingly, it was the Speculoos Butter.  Slightly spicy and a little crunchy, it won the contest and if I hadn’t put the top back on, I might have eaten the contents of the jar one spoonful at a time.  Somehow, I was able to restrain myself, for now…

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Dark Chocolate Dreams filled cakes on the left, Crunchy Speculoos  filled cakes on the right.  No way to tell which is which just by looking on them.  Biting into them is the only option…


IMG_3660Do yourself a favor, pick up a copy of the book and bake along with us, you will enjoy the adventure!  To see the results, visit the website and look for the LYL page.

coconut tapioca; a tuesdays with dorie post

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Tapioca is one of those foods you either love or hate.  Personally, I have fond memories of tapioca pudding from my childhood; my mother would mix up the instant pudding from a box and pour it into small pyrex bowls and topped it with a gentle shake of ground nutmeg. It was a bit eggy in flavor and mostly custard but it did have a small amount of actual tapioca grains in it.  In our house, it was a rare treat and a food memory I recall every now and then.  When I wrote my second cookbook, I included a recipe for tapioca pudding that came pretty close to my recollection of that flavor.

When I saw that we would be preparing tapioca for this weeks Tuesdays with Dorie challenge, I hoped the resulting custard would be a new twist on an old favorite.  Honestly, the two custards contain tapioca but that is where the similarity ends.  This recipe uses pearl tapioca and it is cooked with coconut milk, milk, sugar and vanilla-not an egg in sight.  Finding pearl tapioca can be a challenge unless you have Asian markets near you and since we moved to Williamsburg, the closest one is about 30 minutes away and it just is not convenient to drive that for a single ingredient.  My vision of pastel colored pearls in a rich coconut milk custard will have to wait until the next time I am in Newport News.

After dinner on Sunday evening, my husband and I went to the grocery store to pick up a few things and if I was lucky, a box of pearl tapioca.  With fingers crossed, I wandered from aisle to aisle.  Natural foods? Nope.  Gluten free foods?  Not there either.  International aisle?  No such luck.  Then I walked down the baking aisle.  Success was had right between the boxes of pudding and custard mixes!  Surprisingly, I had my choice of large pearls or small pearls and since I could not remember what the recipe called for, I chose small pearls.

Tapioca is a starch and like all other starches, it swells when it is soaked in water.  In the photo above, the perfectly round spheres are pearl tapioca with the larger ones being those that were soaked overnight.  The small, uneven grains are instant tapioca.  
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The pearls expand and become translucent as they cook and this happens pretty quickly at a gentle simmer.  The recipe calls for full fat coconut milk and whole milk but since we do not keep milk in the house, I traded whole milk for some almond milk.  To alter the flavor, I used a small piece of vanilla bean, subbed a tablespoon of our own wildflower honey for a tablespoon of the sugar and added some rosewater to intensify the floral notes of the honey.


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Dorie gives visual clues in the recipe to help you determine doneness.  Why don’t more recipe writers do this?  She tells you the milk will thicken and the pearls will sit just below the surface.  These two hints are pretty clearly visible in the photo above.


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The tapioca will be slightly chewy when done and will fall apart with gentle pressure from your tongue.  For some, that texture is a problem, but not for me, I enjoyed it completely and not once did this remind me of the tapioca pudding of my childhood.


IMG_3562Vintage linens and violets were a natural choice to accompany such an old-fashioned custard.  The violets are actually Confederate violets, a common lawn flower here in Virginia, and no, I do not consider them weeds!  Earlier this spring, during the peak bloom time, I picked them by the bowl and made my own violet liqueur but that is a post for another day.

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Violets have a faint odor that cannot be detected with just one bloom but a bowl of them steeped in syrup is slightly intoxicating.


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Sadly, the flowers only appear for a few weeks in early spring so if you are lucky to find them in your lawn, be sure to try infusing them into syrup or a clear alcohol such as a potato vodka.  In the mean time, visit the Tuesdays with Dorie website and check out the LYL page to see how my fellow bakers fared.  And if the mood strikes, cook up a pot of coconut tapioca.  For the recipe, you will need to buy a copy of the book since we do not publish the recipes.


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crispy topped brown sugar bars (aka legal crack); a tuesdays with dorie post

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It is no secret that I love cookies and bars, especially when chocolate is involved.  For some time now, I have known that chocolate is and always be my downfall.  But when you add caramel to the mix… Let’s just say that I will be bingeing along with the rest of the addicts.

So far, very few of the recipes that we have prepared since I started baking along with the Tuesdays with Dorie group have been earmarked as “must make again” recipes.  While some may think I am crazy, I am not; I am a professional pastry chef and I spend my days baking sweet stuff.  My palate is well-developed and I love many of the things I bake.  However, if I ate them as frequently as I baked them, I would weigh about 750 pounds.  When you spend as much time working with sugar as a typical pastry chef does, you often find yourself craving things that aren’t sweet.  For me, popcorn and pretzels are generally what I reach for.  Even so, something sweet will make an appearance and ice cream, cookies or even a coffee cake are typical choices in my home.  These bars however, are something that I really would consider making again.


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This.  The reason I would make these again; the crispy topping.  Simple enough, burn sugar, stir in crispy rice cereal and then break it up and press it into a melted chocolate topped brown sugar cookie bar.  They should be called legal crack bars because like potato chips, you will not be able to stop yourself.

Cooking sugar to the caramel stage is trickier than you think.  It is easy to over cook it and before you know it, black smoke is billowing out of the pan and a horrible bitter smell will fill the air.  Never walk away, trust me, you will regret it.  This time around, I stood there and waited and watched and waited and watched.  When I could see the color developing, I gave the pan a few swirls and when it reached a nice light amber color, I stirred in the cereal.  Sure, I could have gone a little darker but I am not liking my glass-topped stove and the way it holds onto heat so I stopped a little sooner than I would have liked to.  Even so, I am glad I made a larger batch than called for; it made up for the half cup I ate as it cooled…
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Look at the sugar hairs.  Now you know how cotton candy is made.  Sugar cooked to the hard crack stage and spun into fine hairs.  Yes, hard crack, the stage before caramel, a fitting name if you ask me.


IMG_3351Now like any other addict, I will have to hide my stash.  Actually, I will do one better and walk away.  Thinking I need to send these away, quickly.  If you are smart, you will make these and if you do, be sure to give them away as fast as you can.  Powerful stuff.  You will find yourself making all sorts of deals and promises for just one more bite.

Join us if you can, we bake and post each Tuesday.  The only requirement, a copy of the book since we do not post recipes out of respect for the author.  This recipe can be found in Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan.  To see how the other bakers fared, visit the website and check out the LYL page.  Be sure to join us as we alternate between this book and Baking with Julia and post about our experiences each Tuesday.

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lemon madeleines: a tuesdays with dorie post

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Over the years, I have tried making madeleines.  Each recipe gave me a glimmer of hope; maybe this batch will have the coveted hump…  Face it, the madeleines themselves aren’t much to get excited about.  Spongy little cakes, not so sweet and a little to dry to eat without a cup of tea or coffee.  But like any other recipe, it is all about achieving the expected results.  Baking this batch of madeleines wasn’t any different from the others in that respect.  It was all about the hump.


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The only factor that differentiates it from the majority of recipes is the two chilling periods.  First the completed batter is chilled for an hour and then the filled pans are chilled for an additional hour.  Getting the batter cold and keeping it cold until the moment it goes into the oven is crucial in as far as the hump is concerned.  Cold batter in a cold pan put in a hot oven will react differently than warm batter in a room temperature pan would.  By the time the center most portion of batter heats up, the outer edges have baked and the structure is set.  The only place for that bit of batter to do is out the top which is what causes the hump.

The final touch, a lemon glaze, which each madeleine is dipped into before returning them to the oven for a minute or two to heat up so it can sink into the surface.  Most recipes just call for brushing a syrup over the warm madeleines but this recipe allows them to cool completely.  They are then dipped, hump sides only, placed on a rack and returned to a piping hot oven just long enough for the glaze to melt and turn clear.  The instructions say to remove them at the first sign of a bubble.  Obviously, I fell asleep at the wheel on that one.  My glaze bubbled a bit and formed a sweet, crusty edge on the hump sides.  
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Close up, you can see the crusty glaze.  The moisture in the madeleines has kept it from being crunchy and it is flaky like a glazed donut.


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Because I know how much my husband likes to have something to dunk in his coffee or tea, I made a double batch.  The recipe suggests that it will make 12, doubled that is 24 but I either under filled my pans or the yield is off because I ended up with 30.  My first batch, the ones on the right, came out a little flat and without pronounced humps.  My guess is that placing the madeleine pan onto a hot sheet pan insulated them and allowed for even baking.  For the second batch, I removed the sheet pans from the oven and placed the madeleine pan directly on the rack.  The madeleines on the left have a more pronounced hump.


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Honestly, my husband does not care about the hump.  For him, it is all about dunkability.  As you can see, he did not waste any time testing them out.


IMG_3219And as far as he is concerned, these will do.  Dunk away dear, dunk away…

To see what the other bakers came up with, visit the Tuesdays with Dorie website and check out the LYL page.  Want to give it a try?  Pick up a copy of the book, Baking Chez Moi, and bake along with us; we do not post recipes so you will need to have a copy of the book.

granola energy bars; a tuesdays with dorie post

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For what seems like forever, I have wanted to make my own granola bars.  When I had to pack lunches for the girls, I would buy them and occasionally, eat some myself, but a single glance at the ingredient list alway left me cringing.  Over the years, I have experimented with granola bars but most of the results just did not give me the chewy but soft texture I was hoping for.  My collection of recipes to try has grown quite a bit and when the Tuesdays with Dorie bakers chose to make the recipe for Granola Energy Bars in Baking Chez Moi, I happily baked along.

The recipe is fairly simple and does not have any tricky steps.  Toast, boil, mix and bake.  Simple ingredients, easy process, what more could a baker want?  The added perk, flexibility as far as what you put in the bars.  The only must, rice syrup something that most supermarkets with a natural food section carry these days.  My thought was to try different combinations of fruits and nuts to make a variety of bars to snack on.  The only thing I did not do was use rolled oats.  Trader Joe’s sells a whole grain hot cereal blend that is made of rolled oats, wheat, barley and rye. There is almost always a carton on the shelf in my pantry and I decided to use the blend rather than just oats.  Working with half the recipe amounts for each batch, I made one batch with dates, cocoa nibs, and walnuts, one batch with Trader Joes Berry Blend (dried cranberries, cherries, golden raisins and blueberries) with almonds and a third batch with mission figs and almonds.  For all of them, I included sweetened coconut and pumpkin seeds, substituted coconut oil for the butter and eliminated the sunflower seeds and the vanilla extract.  
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The mixture was easy to prepare and the three pans came together quickly.  My only wish, that somewhere in the directions it stated how thick they should be in the pan.  The dimensions of the pan is slightly uncommon and with my half batches, I was winging it and hoping that my 6″x 6″ were a good choice.  Since I have had such a problem with the oven temperatures in other recipes, I set the oven to 300F and it took a long time for them to bake, nearly double the time to get them a nice toasty color on top.  This may also have to do with the fact that I did not pretoast my rolled grains; I was hoping to keep them softer.

So what were my results?  Really chewy and almost hard bars that despite the different combinations of fruit, all tasted the same.  Because I did not want them to taste like vanilla, I left out the extract but now I wonder about whether I should have added something like cinnamon because they had an oily taste that must have come from greasing the pans.  In the end, I was a little disappointed with my results but will probably try them again with a full batch of the recipe and a little cinnamon or maybe some pumpkin seed oil and possibly a tiny bit of extract.  As for my husband, he couldn’t eat them fast enough and in a couple of days, had devoured at least half of the bars!

To see what the rest of the bakers came up with, visit the Tuesdays with Dorie website and look for the “leave your links” post.
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gingerbread buche de noel; a tuesdays with dorie post

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To keep it seasonal, the Tuesdays with Dorie bakers chose to make the Buche de Noel from Baking Chez Moi.  This traditional holiday cake roll is frequently decorated to look like a tree log complete with textured bark, leaves, pinecones and even mushrooms.  Thankfully, this rendition was much simpler and the only ode to the holiday was the gingerbread spices added to the cake.

Just as you might expect, the holidays came and went faster than anyone could believe was possible.  Why is that?  Why are we in such a rush to get it done, get it finished so quickly that we scarcely have time to enjoy it?  Whatever the reason, I propose that shift it into slow gear for next year, I would really like to enjoy the day a little more!  Regardless, I finally had a chance to get the Buche de Noel finished although, it was two days after Christmas; better late than never, right?


IMG_2395For those of us who work in or have worked in bakeries, we know that Yule log cakes are pretty common.  Usually, it is a yellow cake spread with a thin layer of chocolate filling and rolled up so that a slice resembles the rings in a tree log.  The recipe in Baking Chez Moi is unusual in that the filling is simply a mixture of cream cheese and butter sweetened only with a small amount of finely chopped pecan praline.  The differences continue with the use of a marshmallow frosting and a sprinkling of coarsely chopped praline pieces.   Somehow, the idea of spreading a mixture of cream cheese and butter into a delicate sponge cake seemed a little heavy to me and I knew I would be making changes.  My choice was to whip up a nice, fluffy batch of cream cheese frosting and I am glad i did;  we thought it was the perfect filling and frosting for my Buche de Noel.

However, before I could do anything, I needed to get the cake baked and that my friends, was just the beginning of my troubles!  To get things started, I decided to make the cake using my hand mixer because all of the parts of my stand mixer were in the dishwasher.  Can I just say that using a hand mixer is not an option when making a genoise.  No matter how much I whipped, with the beaters first and then the whip attachment, the eggs and brown sugar just never formed a ribbon which is essential for a genoise.  In my opinion, the use of brown sugar did not help since I feel it affected the ph balance of the mixture and prevented the eggs from reaching the proper ribbon stage.

My solution to the whole matter was to make the cake a second time but with a different method.  First of all, I used room temperature eggs and white sugar.  Heating the eggs and sugar and whipping them on high-speed is the common approach but my experience is that a better, stronger structure is formed from room temperature eggs whipped a little slower.  Brown sugar is tricky to use in this instance simply because every brand is different.  Have you ever held the different bags together and looked at the colors of them?   Even bags from the same manufacturer can be a different shade when compared side by side.  There just does not seem to be a true standard of color for light and dark brown sugar.  In my book, it makes brown sugar a bit of a wild card and not my first choice for a recipe as fickle as a genoise.  The fact that my first cake turned out to be a two toned sheet of rubber confirmed my suspicions and not only will I not use brown sugar but I will also not ever try this with a hand mixer either!!

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With a fluffy sheet of genoise cake subtly spiced with ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and black pepper, I set to work on rolling the sheet as per the directions.  Can somebody please tell me why this is done?  Over the years, I have made many rolls of cake without ever pre-rolling a single one.  I’m sorry but if you ask me, it is a bad move.  Just as I suspected, the cake cracked into pieces when I unrolled it to fill it.  This really annoyed me after the trouble I had with the cake itself.  In the future, I will store my layers in the fridge flat-out on a pan until I need them.  As it was, I carefully spread some of my cream cheese frosting over the cake taking care not to damage it any further.  To keep it in the spirit of the original recipe, I sprinkled the finely chopped praline over the frosting and rolled the cake back up.  Then to finish it off, I spread a generous layer of frosting over the entire log and topped it all of with the remaining praline pieces.


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We enjoyed thick slabs of the cake topped with sprinkles of praline while sitting by the fire, the room glowing from the lights of the tree.  Finally, we had the chance to enjoy Christmas, too bad it wasn’t until a few days later…

So, here’s to a happy and prosperous New Year!  Check out the Tuesdays with Dorie page to see how all of the other bakers made out with the recipe! 
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