THE HOME BAKERS COLLECTIVE: MARCH PROJECT

If you don’t know what the Home Bakers Collective is all about, please read my post about it with a click here. This month’s challenge was… surprise surprise…. conceived by yours truly! In case you did not notice, we are following the painful path of elimination through the Great American Baking Show that aired in December. Seems like ages ago, as we face  difficult, truly stressful times. At some point I did not know if we could even meet this challenge. Things degenerated too quickly, nobody could find flour and many other baking ingredients were scarce (and still are), but my baking  buddies stood up to the task and here we are. The brief is: bake a pie to say goodbye to winter, dedicated or inspired by someone you miss. Mine is a Blueberry Pie, and I dedicate it to my stepson Alex. More about it on comments after the recipe.

BLUEBERRY-BERGAMOT PIE
(from the Bewitching Kitchen, inspired by several sources)

for pie crust:
200 g cold, unsalted butter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
85 g ice-cold water
350 g all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
egg wash (1 egg beaten with a teaspoon of water)

for the filling:
3 pints fresh blueberries.
Finely grated zest of 1 orange, plus 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice.
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons cornstarch.
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon.
1 drop food-grade bergamot essential oil (optional)

Make the pie crust. Mix the water, egg and vinegar in a bowl, reserve in the fridge. Add the flour, salt and sugar to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few seconds to mix, but just a few seconds, you do not want to heat up the ingredients.

Add the very cold butter in pieces and pulse briefly to form clumps of butter the size of peas. Turn the processor on and add the cold water/egg mixture through the opening of the lid. Process until the dough starts to come together, then stop immediately.  Grab the dough and press it as a disk over plastic wrap.  Reserve in the fridge for one hour.

Divide the dough in two parts, one slightly bigger than the other (to form the bottom crust). Roll the bigger portion as a round with about 3mm in thickness. Drape it over the pan and reserve in the fridge while you prepare the filling. Roll the second portion in the same thickness to cover the top. Using small cookie cutters make a design on the top if desired, and cut decorations from the same piece of dough. Place them in the freezer.

Heat the oven to 350F.

Make the filling. In a medium bowl, gently toss together blueberries, orange zest and juice, sugar, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, and bergamot oil.  Pour the  mixture over the bottom crust, dot with butter and cover with the frozen disk. Brush the surface with egg wash.

Bake until the filling begins to bubble out of the vents and the top crust is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 1 to 2 hours to let the filling set before serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I had a lot of fun making this pie, even if compared to the fancy designs made by serious pie artists, mine was pretty amateurish. I dedicated this pie to my stepson Alex. There are two food items that I will always associate with him, because he loves them so much. Blueberries and crab. No, not together, he is a man of fine taste… 😉  When he lived with us as a young teenager and blueberries were in season, we always kept many little containers in the fridge, so that he could have his blueberry fix with every meal. Steamed crab legs were another favorite of his, our dinners would take a long time, as the three of us went through an impressive number of crab legs. Unfortunately, we don’t see him as often as we would like. He is a physician in New York, a resident in Interventional Radiology working right in the center of the coronavirus pandemic. We wish we lived closer and that he could have enjoyed this pie, sitting right at our table with his adorable partner Courtnie…

Please make sure to stop by The Bakers Collective to see what my fellow tent-bakers did for this challenge. Not everyone could join, for obvious reasons. Life has been stressful for the whole human population. It is a strange way to feel connected to the whole world, and I hope that this nightmare will have a happy ending soon. Be well, be safe, be healthy and STAY HOME.

ONE YEAR AGO: Another Twisted Sister of the Shepherd’s Pie

TWO YEARS AGO: Cashew Chicken, My Way

THREE YEARS AGO: Two Deliciously Simple Salads

FOUR YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, April 2016

FIVE YEARS AGO: Spring has Sprung with Suzanne Goin

SIX YEARS AGO: Chai Brownies

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Pomegranate-Molasses Glazed Carrots

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Braised Brisket with Bourbon-Peach Glaze

NINE YEARS AGO: The Real Vodka Sauce

TEN YEARS AGO: Spring Rolls on a Spring Day

 

BROWNIES, THREE WAYS

I share with you three takes on a very simple bake, the deliciously humble brownie. What makes a brownie a  brownie? Tough to define precisely because lots of different recipes will take you to that territory. In general, it is a simple cake with just a few ingredients: butter, flour, chocolate, sugar and eggs. But a leavening agent might finds its way there also, in case the baker prefers a more cake-like version. Marriages have been damaged due to brownie divergencies. I advise you to date people who share your passion for fudgy or cakey. Back to what matters. My three versions are right here for you.

BROWNIE, TRADITIONAL

I like it to be dense, creamy, not cakey. I like a brownie with substance, but that melts in the mouth and brings with each bite a moment of introspection because words seem like such a waste.

This recipe, straight from the blog of Helen, my tent-baker friend, checks all the boxes.For the recipe, visit Bakers Anonymous with a click here.

BROWNIE, DRESSED UP

BROWNIE PIE
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

for the pastry shell:
(makes more than you need, save the rest in the freezer)
310g  all purpose flour
30g powdered sugar
pinch of salt
170g butter (chilled and cut in small cubes)
3 egg yolks mixed with very cold water to make a volume of 6 tablespoons

for the chocolate brownie filling:
100 g coarsely chopped 70% chocolate
10 g  Dutch-process cocoa powder
120 g unsalted butter
180 g whole eggs
130 g granulated sugar
50 g all-purpose flour, sifted
powdered sugar for decoration (optional)

Heat the oven to 375F.

Put the flour, sugar and salt in food processor then add the butter and process until the butter is in small pieces. With the motor running add the mixture of egg yolks and cold water. Stop the mixer before the pastry forms a ball, remove it from the processor and gently bring it all together with your hands over plastic wrap. Shape into a flat disc and leave it in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Roll out the pastry to a thickness of about 3mm. I like to do it in between two plastic sheets (I cut the four sides of a  large ziplock bag leaving just the bottom part attached, open it and roll the pastry inside it). Roll the dough as a circle large enough to cover the pan and leave a little extra around the sides. Place it in an 8-inch tart pan with removable bottom.

Line the surface with plastic wrap and fill with beans. Wrap the plastic over the beans so that it does not touch the metal sides of the pan.  Blind bake for 15 minutes with the beans on, then carefully remove them and place the shell back in the oven for 20 more minutes. Remove and allow it to cool slightly.

Lower the temperature of the oven to 350 F.

Make the brownie filling. Gently melt the chocolate, cocoa powder and butter together in the microwave. In a bowl, lightly whisk the eggs and sugar by hand. Fold in the dark chocolate mixture, followed by the sifted flour. Continue gently folding using a spatula until well combined. Place the finished mixture into the blind-baked tart shell and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until it is set in the center.

Allow it to cool and decorate with powdered sugar using a stencil, if you like. Refrigerate until serving time.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

This was decadent. We offered pieces to some bricklayers working in a little project in our home and they were very VERY happy.  This recipe has just enough flour to hold it together, so it is almost like enjoying a piece of ready to  melt chocolate on top of a sweet tart shell. Bliss. 

Am I the only one who sees a cute alien?

Now finally, my third version for you…

BROWNIE BITES, FOR FUN

BROWNIE BITES
(adapted from The Cookery Wife)

95 g all-purpose flour
200 g granulated sugar
75 g cocoa powder (I used natural)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, (1 stick, 113 g), room temperature
2 eggs
1 teaspoons vanilla paste
2 Tablespoons full-fat milk (optional)

Heat oven to 350F.

Spray your mini-cake pan with baking spray containing flour.

In the bowl of a stand mixer add dry ingredients: flour, sugar, cocoa, salt. Stir to combine. Next, add eggs, vanilla, butter. Mix on low for 30 seconds, add the milk and mix on medium-high for 2 full minutes. Batter will be very thick. Place it in a piping bag (no need for piping tip). Cut an opening and fill the mini-cakes between 1/2 and 3/4 full.

Using the tip of your finger coated with a bit of butter, press the batter to smooth it out. Bake for 15 minutes until a tooth pick inserted comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes before removing from pan.

A toothpick can help loosen the sides, but be gentle.  Cool completely over a rack before decorating with powdered sugar.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

First of all, don’t let the lack of a mini-cute-Bundt pan stop you from making these bites. A mini-muffin alternative will work just as well. But, you know I cannot resist a baking gadget. I was a bit afraid of them sticking to the pan, but most came out just with a gentle flip of the pan (see photo, bottom left). Just a few stayed in, but were also released with a gentle tap, no harm done. I think filling them just a little over half capacity is the ticket. If some of them dome a bit, you can gently shave the bump with a small serrated knife, so they will sit leveled.

They have great flavor and the texture is not dense, even though the batter started so thick. You can decorate them with powdered sugar, a drizzle of caramel, melted chocolate. I happened to have some leftover white chocolate ganache from a macaron adventure, so I added a touch of that to most of them. They are perfect to bring to parties or share with co-workers. I will bake them regularly, my next project will involve a lemon cake. The idea is to avoid cake batters that are too light, you need more substance to get them to unmold nicely and keep the overall design.

ONE YEAR AGO: Berry Rebellion Tarts  (one of my favorite blog posts)

TWO YEAR AGO: Emilie Raffa’s High Hydration Sourdough

THREE YEARS AGO: Short-Ribs with Chickpeas and Chard

FOUR YEARS AGO: Asian-Style Short Ribs 

FIVE YEARS AGO: Herbed Goat Cheese Souffles

SIX YEARS AGO: Barley Risotto with Peas

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Jammin’ Blueberry Sour Milk Pancakes

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Scallops with Black Pasta in Orange Cream Sauce

NINE YEARS AGO: Stir-fried Chicken with Creamed Corn

TEN YEARS AGO: Potato, Cheddar, and Chive Torpedo

GALETTE DES ROIS

When I first applied to be on the Great American Baking Show, I started working to improve my baking skills.  I made a list of general techniques and a list of “classic bakes” to go along with them. Two years passed by. I went to the tent and came back. But this “self-improvement process” goes on. In fact, being in the show gave me extra energy and passion to get better. Tackle the techniques I still feel insecure about. Bake the classics. Such as Galette des Rois. I have always associated it with France, but it originated in Medieval times, enjoyed during Roman festivities known as Saturnalia. Usually a hidden figurine (or a bean, a whole almond) is baked in the tart, and the person who finds it gets to be King (or Queen) for a day.  I skipped that part in my dessert, afraid some departmental colleague would break a tooth. Galette des Rois: puff pastry enclosing almond cream. I can think of few things equally mouth-watering.

GALETTE DES ROIS
(adapted from Bake-Street)

For quick puff pastry:
125g all purpose flour
125g pastry flour
250 g unsalted butter, cold
6 g sugar
5 g salt
100-110g very cold water, from the fridge

for almond filling:
125 g almond flour
100 g powdered sugar
100 g unsalted butter at room temperature
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves

to brush before baking:
2 egg yolks

to brush after baking (optional, but nice):
30 g water
30 g sugar

Make the puff pastry dough. Add the flours, sugar, salt and butter to the bowl of a KitchenAid type mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix for about 1 minute in low speed until the butter gets into small pieces.  Add 100g of the water and mix another minute, checking to see if you need to add a little more.  The mixture should not feel too sticky, but it should come together nicely if you press it with your fingers.  Do not mix for too long, to avoid developing gluten. Tranfer the dough to a plastic wrap, form into a rectangle and place in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough out as a large rectangle on a lightly floured surface. No need to worry too much about dimensions, I try to make it twice as long as it is wide. Make one envelope-type fold bringing the top down and the bottom part over it.  Turn the dough  so that one folded part is to your right. Roll out the same way, fold again.  Freeze for 30 minutes.

Remove from the freezer and roll again two more times. If the dough seems too warm, and the butter is threatening to melt into it, freeze it again for 30 minutes between the third and fourth folds. Once you finish the fourth fold, keep the dough in the fridge until ready to make the dessert. You can keep it overnight or longer.

Prepare the galette: Lightly sprinkle a work surface with flour. Roll the dough to a large rectangle,  around 22 x 14 inches. Cut two circles of approximately the same size, with the diameter you want your galette to be. Mine was 8 + ¾ inch in diameter.  Cover both circles with plastic and refrigerate while you make the filling.

Make the almond filling. To the bowl of your KitchenAid type mixer add the powdered sugar and butter, mix at low-speed until it starts to form a thick paste, add one egg and continue mixing.  Add the almond flour, always at low-speed, ,then the second egg. Add the vanilla and the spices, mix to incorporate.   Place in a piping bag, no need for icing tip.

Place the first round of pastry over parchment paper on a baking sheet. Pipe the almond cream makig a spiral over the circle, leaving  a space at the edge without cream.  Moisten the edges lightly with cold water. If you want to include a figurine or a whole almond, now is the time to do it.

Place the second disc on top, the water brushed on the edge should help it stick. Gently press the top dough over the filling to avoid bubbles being trapped underneath.  Use the side of a knife opposite of the blade to mark the dough all around the edges, so that upon baking, it will form a nice wavy design.  Brush the top with a well beaten egg yolk. Refrigerate for 1 hour, uncovered.

Brush with egg yolk again. Make a pattern over the surface, adding a small hole in the center to vent the galette during baking. Refrigerate, uncovered for another hour.

Meanwhile, make the syrup to brush the surface by adding all  the ingredients in a saucepan. Place on medium heat and boil until the sugar dissolves.  Cool completely before using.

Heat the oven to 375 F. Place the galette in the oven and bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 340-350F and bake for 40 to 45 minutes longer.  If you want to brush with the syrup, do it as soon as the galette is baked, still hot from the oven.  Let it cool completely before slicing.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: The traditional scoring on the surface is a spiral design. I decided to go with a different style, inspired by sourdough slashing. After I baked this galette, I saw a very nice version on Instagram decorating the surface with many concentric hearts. Who knows? I might fully ignore that Valentine is over, and go for it in the near future. After all, I already disrespected the correct day to serve this pastry, which happens to be January 6th. So a Galette de Coeur in March or April? Does not bother me at all.

The galette dough can be made with full-laminated pastry or a quick puff. I opted for the latter because it is a type of dough I am not that comfortable with. I made some for what would have been the semi-final of the show (click here), but had to speed up the process quite a bit to fit it all in the available timing.  For this galette, you can see that once you take your time and allow the dough to stay very cold all the time, it really puffs up beautifully.

I loved the addition of spices to the almond cream, which was a twist shared in the recipe at Bake-Street. By the way, that is one of my favorite blogs, I never miss her posts, the videos are a pleasure to watch. She is the neat and precise baker I aspire to be. Next life. There’s always next life…

Grab a pin, and let’s Saturnalia together!

ONE YEAR AGO: Sous-Vide Overnight Oatmeal

TWO YEARS AGO: A Valentine’s Day Opera

THREE YEARS AGO: Incredibly Simple Times Four

FOUR YEARS AGO: Walnut-Cranberry Sourdough Bread

FIVE YEARS AGO: Ottolenghi in Brazil?

SIX YEARS AGO: Roasted Winter Vegetables with Miso-Lime Dressing

SEVEN YEARS AGO: 2012 Fitness Report: P90X2

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Caramelized Bananas

NINE YEARS AGO: Roasted Lemon Vinaigrette

TEN YEARS AGO: Whole Wheat Bread

 

 

 

 

 

MINI-HEART CAKES FOR YOUR VALENTINE


Valentine’s Day is so commercial. Who needs a special day to celebrate love and friendship? No one. We should all just ignore it. With that in mind, let me say I have no problem with a special day to shower all those special persons in your life with attention and affection. A partner, a special friend, that family member you look up to and adore. Today I share a recipe that seems a bit involved, but when you break it down into its components, it is quite simple. Trust me. I almost always speak the truth.

VALENTINE’S MINI-HEARTS MOUSSE CAKES
(inspired from many sources)

for the sable base:
120 g cold butter, cut in pieces
65 g powdered sugar
260 g all-purpose flour
30 g almond flour
pinch of salt
1 egg

Heat oven to 375 F.

Add the sugar, flour, almond flour and salt to the bowl of a KitchenAid type mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix at low speed for about 30 seconds just to incorporate the ingredients together. Add the cold butter and process until the butter gets in small pieces, a bit smaller than pea-size. Add the egg and mix just until it starts to glue together as a dough, but stop before it all gets into a single mass to avoid gluten formation.  Gather the dough on a piece of plastic wrap and gently form it as a disk with your hand.

Roll the pastry between plastic or parchment paper to a 3mm thickness. Cut heart or round shapes. Place over parchment paper on a baking sheet and freeze for 10 minutes.  Bake for about 10 minutes until it starts to get golden around the edges.  Reserve.

for the quinoa-crisp:
115 g white chocolate
20 g pistachio paste (or almond butter)
20 g puffed quinoa (or rice Krispies)
for home-made puffed quinoa, click here

Bake the puffed quinoa in a 325 F oven for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, melt the white chocolate in a microwave very gently. Mix the melted chocolate with the pistachio paste.  Add the quinoa and spread  in a 4 mm (1/8 inch) thickness in between two sheets of parchment paper. It will be a little sticky, try to level it as best as you can. When it is cooled down a bit, cut the exact dimension of the bigger mold you will use for the dessert. Reserve in freezer until  needed.

For the Raspberry Mousse insert:
2 g of Platinum gelatin (1 sheet)
100 g mashed raspberries (fresh or frozen), seeds sieved out
20 g granulated sugar
100 g whipping cream, cold

First, put the gelatin leaves, in a bowl with very cold water to bloom for 10 minutes.  In a small saucepan, heat the raspberry puree until it boils. Remove from heat, wait 5 minutes, drain the gelatin and add to the mixture. Mix until completely dissolved. Let cool to about 95 F.

Meanwhile, whip the cream to soft peaks. Gradually incorporate the cream into the raspberry mixture. Place the mousse in the semi-spheres and freeze overnight.

For the mascarpone mousse:
6 g Platinum gelatin (3 sheets)
80 ml whipping cream
55 g egg yolks
80 g granulated sugar
160 g mascarpone cheese
1/4 tsp vanilla paste
320 g heavy cream

Bloom the gelatin in cold water for 10 minutes. Combine egg yolks with sugar, whisking well and set aside. In a saucepan, heat 80 ml of cream until it boils. Remove from heat, and slowly pour a bit of the hot liquid into the egg yolk mixture, to temper it gently. Add the rest of the cream and transfer all the mixture to a saucepan.

Over low heat, cook until 180 F stirring constantly. Remove from heat, drain the gelatin, and add to the mixture, stirring until completely dissolved. Let the mixture cool down to around 140 F. Add the mascarpone cheese, mix until the cheese is incorporated. Process with a hand mixer, to emulsify. Add the vanilla paste, and let it cool to around 95 F.

Meanwhile, whip the 320 ml of cream to soft peaks. Incorporate the  cream gradually to the mascarpone mixture. Place in the mini-hearts mold, 1/2 to the volume, spread gently with a spoon around the sides to avoid air bubble.  Drop the frozen raspberry inserts, cover with mousse almost to the top, place the crunchy quinoa layer on top, press gently and freeze overnight.

For mirror glaze:
3 sheets Platinum grade sheet gelatin
120ml water
150 g liquid glucose
150 g granulated or caster sugar
1 tsp agar-agar
100 g condensed milk
150 g white chocolate, chopped fairly small
½ tsp titanium oxide (optional, but advisable)
red gel food coloring

Put the water, sugar, liquid glucose and agar-agar in a small pan and bring to simmering point, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and let it stand for about 5 minutes. This is the base syrup for the glaze.  Meanwhile, soak the gelatin in some cold water for about 5 minutes. Squeeze out the excess water and stir into the hot water, sugar and liquid glucose mixture to dissolve. Stir in the condensed milk and the titanium oxide.

Put the chocolate in a medium bowl and pour this hot mixture slowly over the chocolate, stirring gently to melt it, avoid making bubbles. Add the red food gel dye. A stick immersion blender works great, but you must keep the blades fully submerged at all times. If bubbles are present, pass the mixture through a fine sieve.

The ideal temperature to glaze is 92 to 94 F. Glaze the frozen mousse cakes, decorate with sprinkles if desired.

Defrost 2 hours in fridge before serving.

 ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: For this dessert I used a mini-heart mold from Silikomart and a mini-half-sphere mold. The mini-heart mold I bought came with a cookie cutter with the exact dimension to made a cookie base. I am not sure every single mold sold comes with the cutter (I got mine at ebay a while ago), but any heart-shaped cookie cutter will work, if the dimensions are approximately right.

Start your preparation two days before serving, by making the raspberry centers. In this case I used a mousse, which tones down the sharpness of the raspberry a bit. If you prefer a sharper, more intense taste, consider using just the puree thickened with gelatin, like I shared in this post. You can also make the crunchy base with puffed quinoa (or rice Krispies) and the sable base two days in advance. Or even earlier. Stick the crunchy layer in the freezer, keep the sable at room temperature.

The day before serving make the mascarpone mousse and assemble the little cakes. Freeze everything and if you want to make your life very easy on serving day, prepare the mirror glaze emulsion and store it in the fridge.

On serving day, glaze those babies and keep in the fridge to defrost for a couple of hours. It is a process I love making, no matter how many times I do the mirror glaze thing, I am always in awe…

I had to add sprinkles because that’s how I roll… Also, they work wonders if you have a small boo-boo here and there on the glaze. Just drop a silver star on it, and call it a day.

You could omit the crunchy later with puffed quinoa but it is so simple to make and it does add a lot to the dessert. You can buy puffed quinoa or quickly make some, following the instructions here. If you don’t have  pistachio paste, use a bit of almond butter softened in the microwave just to make it a tad more spreadable. It won’t be exactly the same, but it will work.

I am pretty happy with the way these little hearts turned out. Both mousses combined well in flavor and texture. If you don’t have the hear-shaped mold, use large half-spheres. You can also go for dessert rings and make the insert as a smaller component with any shape that is convenient for you. Just keep in mind the volumes you will need. Every component can be scaled up easily if necessary, but the raspberry mousse already makes more than you’ll need for 8 mini-cakes. I had enough for 15 inserts and only used 8.  Leftovers are in the freezer, patiently waiting for a next opportunity to play.

Finally, when you pour the mirror glaze, do it over a baking sheet lined with Saran wrap, so you can easily store leftovers. They freeze well and if you accumulate several colors you can go Pollock on your next dessert…

ONE YEAR AGO: Blue Moon Milk

TWO YEARS AGO: Slow-Cooked Chicken Meatballs

THREE YEARS AGO: Zesty Flourless Chocolate Cake

FOUR YEARS AGO: Maple Pumpkin Pecan Snacking Cake

FIVE YEARS AGOSilky Gingered Zucchini Soup

SIX YEARS AGO: Sweet Fifteen!

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Sesame and Flaxseed Sourdough

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Green Beans with Miso and Almonds

NINE YEARS AGO: Saturday Morning Scones

TEN YEARS AGO: White Bread

 

MINCEMEAT PIES: WHEN THE THIRD TIME IS A CHARM

If you don’t live in the UK, the idea of mincemeat pie as a dessert item sounds very unappealing, to put it mildly. The thought of having ground meat encased in pastry after dinner? Or with your afternoon tea? But, of course, we should all know better. Mincemeat, a delicacy that dates back to the 15th century  is a mixture of dried fruits, spices, some alcohol like wine or brandy, and traditionally beef suet or venison. Modern versions use other types of fat, I made mine with butter. Since I had never tried or even seen a mincemeat pie in person, I was a bit nervous about making them, but decided to take it as a technical challenge. Then I proceeded to bake one catastrophic batch, one reasonably ok but not great, and finally a third version that I was happy with. No, not all in the same day, I have not fully lost it yet. I share what I learned from this self-imposed challenge in the comments. 

MINCEMEAT PIES
(adapted from Irish Times and  Nancy Birtwhistle)

Makes 10 to 12 little pies, depending on how thin you are able to roll the pastry.

Prepare your muffin pan:  place a thin strip of parchment paper inside each hole, to facilitate removal of the pies after baking).

for the mincemeat filling:
200g raisins
50g dried apricots, finely diced
50g dried cherries, finely diced
120g brown sugar
120g unsalted butter
70ml sherry
Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves

Combine the fruit with the sugar, butter, sherry, orange zest, and spices  in a saucepan and put on a gentle heat for a few minutes until the butter melts and the fruit softens slightly in the buttery syrup. Bring to a gentle simmer and simmer until it gets thick, with not much liquid floating in the surface.  Cool and use to fill the little pies.

for the pastry:
310g  all purpose flour
30g powdered sugar
pinch of salt
170g butter (chilled and cut in small cubes)
3 egg yolks mixed with very cold water to make a volume of 6 tablespoons

Heat the oven to 375F.

Put the flour, sugar and salt in food processor then add the butter and process until the butter is in small pieces. With the motor running add the mixture of egg yolks and cold water. Stop the mixer before the pastry forms a ball, remove it from the processor and gently bring it all together with your hands over plastic wrap. Shape into a flat disc and leave it in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Roll out the pastry to a thickness of about 3mm. I like to do it in between two plastic sheets (I cut the four sides of a  large ziplock bag leaving just the bottom part attached, open it and roll the pastry inside it). Cut out circles with a  9 cm (about 3.5 inches) round cookie cutter.  Place them carefully inside the prepared muffin cups. Cut out 7 cm (a little less than 3 inches) lids which should fit right over the top. Use a small star shaped or round cookie cutter to make a hole in the middle of the pastry lids.

Fill each base with the mincemeat, brush a little water on the edges of the pastry and gently lay the top over. No need to apply pressure, and no need to brush the top with egg wash. Bake for about 25 minutes until the mince pies are light golden. Allow to cool slightly before removing them from the muffin cups. Dust the mince pies with icing sugar.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: The mincemeat. You can find it in jars, and you can find it in little boxes to be reconstituted with water. I bought a small box, followed the instructions to bring it to life, and tried a taste. No way I would add that to my pies. Maybe the brand was not the greatest? I don’t know. But I advise you to make your own or get a brand that is recommended by some very experienced mincemeat pie baker.  If you make the filling, keep in mind that you’ll need to simmer it down to the point that it gets thick, with not too much liquid floating around. And that each little pie should not be filled to the top. Which brings me to mistake #1.

The picture above shows my very first batch in the making. Instead of a muffin tin, I used a little tart pan, with a very small volume, which I filled to the top. Not a wise move. But then, there was also mistake #2.

I added the top, and it was not the right size, it should have been slightly bigger in diameter to fully cover the bottom.  I won’t share a picture of these babies after baking, because not only the filling exploded through the edges and the top, but the mismatch between pastry bottom and top made them quite sad to look at. Paul Hollywood would have dragged me out of the tent while mumbling “how could you? how could you?”  Undeterred, next day I rolled my sleeves up and tried again.

My second batch seemed quite a bit more promising. I matched bottoms and tops with the precision of a NASA engineer, but still committed two major sins. First, the filling was obviously too liquid so it bubbled all over the top. Second, I forgot to add paper strips to the bottom of the muffin tin, which made removing them from the pan a real nail-bitter of a task. One broke into pieces right in front of my eyes. Much to the delight of certain pups that happened to be circling around the kitchen. Mincemeat? Did you say mincemeat?

I cannot bring myself to show you what the pies looked like after baking – the best way to describe is a micemeat crime scene – even after a dust storm of powdered sugar, you can see the stains of filling over the top.

Chef Sherry Yard was right when she kept telling us that powdered sugar covers a multitude of sins, but still, I wanted to get it right. Next day I took a deep breath and started by simmering down the mincemeat filling, until it was really thick and luscious. Cooled it down, made more pastry dough, and baked them at a lower temperature, 375F.  Worked like a charm!

They baked perfectly in about 25 minutes, no bubbling over, and the paper strip trick (thank you, Nancy) worked like a dream, I could remove them one at a time without any problem.


Of course, a little powdered sugar makes a little pie even nicer!

So there you have it, my friends. It took me three attempts to get this bake right, but I am glad I kept trying, because it is much easier to tweak things when you have all the issues fresh in your mind. I loved the filling and the texture of the pastry, which was also very easy to work with.  Can I say one more time thank you, Nancy? Since on my third attempt I made just a few pies, I used the leftover dough to make a chocolate tart, and it turned out quite tasty too. You will see it in the blog soon, I promise.

 

ONE YEAR AGO: Shibari Bread]

TWO YEARS AGO: Incredibly Simple Times Four – January 2018 

THREE YEARS AGO: Two Salads and a Blog Award!

FOUR YEARS AGO: When Three is Better than Two

FIVE YEARS AGO: Somebody Stop Me!

SIX YEARS AGO: Zucchini Pasta with Cilantro-Cashew Pesto

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Bran Muffins, Take Two

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

NINE YEARS AGO: Mogo Mojo

TEN YEARS AGO: Slow-Roasted Chicken Thighs: an Ice-Breaker

BRAZILIAN PAO DE MEL

In case you’ve missed my big announcement:
12 days to showtime!

Want to say it as a native? Pay attention to the nasal sound of PÃO… and repeat after me…

Pão de mel translates literally as “honey bread.” However, it is definitely not a bread, and honey might not be the first flavor that comes to mind once you take your first bite. I admit the name is misleading, but I am thrilled to share this recipe with you, because it is a real classic in my home country. It has flavors I adore (that ginger, spicy thing), enclosed in a nice chocolate shell. The ones I grew up with were a bit on the dense side. My family had no tradition of baking, so I only had pão de mel that you get in stores, wrapped in plastic for who knows how long. This version is so good, very soft, tender, sweet and spicy. I made two kinds, the traditional, covered with a shell of chocolate, and a little departure from the classic, in bundt shape. You decide which one you like best.

PÃO DE MEL
(from the Bewitching Kitchen, adapted from several sources)

1 egg
250mL whole milk
90 g  sugar
270 g honey
30 g butter, melted and cooled
240 g all purpose flour
7 g baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon of nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
3 tablespoons cocoa powder (Dutch process is fine)

for the filling;
dulce de leche (store bought or homemade)

for covering:
tempered bittersweet chocolate, about 500 g

Mix the egg with milk, sugar, honey and butter in a large bowl. Whisk well. In another bowl, stir in the remaining dry ingredients and sift them slowly over the egg mixture in three portions, stirring well after each addition until a smooth, homogeneous mixture is formed.  Place batter in fridge for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, turn the oven on at 360 F. If using non-stick mini cake pans, you don’t need to do anything. Otherwise grease and flour the pans lightly.  Ideally you need a 6 cm round tin (a bit less than 2.5 inches). Pour the batter halfway through the tin, do not fill more than half.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Unmold the still warm rolls and let them cool completely on a rack. Cut them in half and stuff each with the dulce de leche.

Temper chocolate and cover each little pao de mel.

Alternatively, bake the batter in mini bundt pans, fill the central hole with dulce de leche and decorate with a drizzle of tempered chocolate. Mini bundt pans will take slightly longer to bake. Cool them in the mold before unmolding.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: If you want to make your own dulce de leche, there are many methods to do so. Pressure cooker, slow oven, even the microwave. I opted for sous-vide and must say it was perfect. Simply pour the contents of 1 can of condensed milk into a bag, seal it and cook it at 185F for 12 to 16 hours. When the time is up, simply cut the bag and pour the contents into a container. Into the fridge ready for any dulce de leche emergency.

Homemade dulce de leche is a real treat, I highly recommend you give it a try, but of course, the canned product will work well too. Pão de mel can be frozen for a couple of months without the filling and chocolate covering. You can also simplify the process and skip the filling. The simplified version is actually more common to buy in Brazil. But normally, when people make them at home, they go the extra mile. A very sweet mile, if you ask me.

Which version was better, classic or mini-bundt? I honestly have a hard time deciding. The mini-bundt is a lot easier to make because once you un-mold the little cakes the hard work is done. You can conceivably even get by without tempering chocolate, just melting it gently and drizzling it all over. But of course, the traditional version is the one that brings fond memories of my past. It’s your turn now, make both and let me know what you think…

For those interested:  this is the pan I used to bake the cakes. I love it!

ONE YEAR AGO: Stir-Fried Chicken in Sesame Orange Sauce

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THREE YEARS AGO: A New Way to Roast Veggies

FOUR YEARS AGO: Two Takes on Raspberries

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EIGHT YEARS AGO: Wild Mushroom Risotto

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TEN YEARS AGO:  Pugliese Bread

GIANT COOKIE MEETS MOUSSE

…and the Entremet Cookie is born! I cannot take credit for it, so before I even start talking about this delicious dessert, let me thank Maxime, from Empreintesucree.fr.  She is a professional pâtissière who shares very detailed recipes of her beautiful productions. If you are a bit intimidated by entremet type cakes, this one is an excellent starting point, especially if you simplify the decoration steps (see comments). I guarantee it will still impress your guests.

ENTREMET COOKIE
(slightly modified from Empreintesucree.fr)

for the cookie base:
80 g butter (at room temperature)
65 g muscovado sugar
a pinch of salt
1 egg (55 g)
120 g all purpose flour
2 g baking powder
90 g dark chocolate mini chips

for the chocolate cream:
1 egg yolk
10 g of sugar
100 g heavy whipping cream
38 g dark chocolate (I used Lindt 70%)

for the dark chocolate buttercream:
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
290 g confectioners’ sugar
90 g unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

for the chocolate mousse:
180 g Caramelia chocolate (or milk chocolate of  your choice) of milk chocolate
250 g heavy whipping cream

for the chocolate velvet spray (optional)
120 g milk chocolate (I used Caramelia)
80 g of cocoa butter

for decoration:
golden stars
chocolate Crispearls

Suggested timeframe: make cookie two days before serving time and freeze it. The day before serving make the mousse, and the chocolate cream. Assemble the cake and save the cream in fridge until cake is un-molded.  On serving day make the chocolate buttercream, and the chocolate spray suspension (if using).

Make the cookie base. Heat the oven to 350 F. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper  and place over it a 20 cm ring. Reserve.

In the bowl of a KitchenAid type mixer, cream the butter with the brown sugar and salt. Add the egg and mix again, then sift the flour with the baking powder and mix gently.  Add the mini chocolate chips, and spoon the batter inside the ring. (It is easier to just pour the batter over the parchment paper eye-balling the dimension, then sit the ring on top and use an off-set spatula to carefully spread it uniformly inside the ring).

Bake for about 15 minutes, until the edges start to get some color. Remove from the oven, and – using oven mitts – immediately make circles with the ring, which will make the cookie base shrink a little bit, as it is still hot. You just want to have the cookie a tiny bit smaller than the ring, so that the mousse will cover the edges fully.  Allow the cookie to cool completely before placing it in the freezer.

Make the chocolate cream.  Whisk the sugar and the egg yolk in a small bowl. In parallel, heat the cream in a small saucepan. Pour the cream over the sugar/yolk mixture to temper it, then transfer everything back to the saucepan. Cook the custard over low heat until 180 F.  Pour the cream over the chocolate until it is slightly melted and mix with a spatula.  Place a plastic film in contact with the cream and reserve it in the refrigerator. When ready to assemble, place in piping bag with a plastic adaptor and have two round piping tips ready, of different sizes.

Make the chocolate mousse. Melt the Caramelia chocolate gently in a double boiler.  Bring one third of the cream, about 80 g to a simmer in a saucepan. Pour the hot cream over the melted chocolate and mix with a spatula until fully smooth. Whip the remaining whipping cream until it gets the consistency of melted ice cream.  Pour half of the cream on your milk chocolate mixture and mix gently with a spatula. Add the remaining cream and mix again until you get a perfectly smooth chocolate whipped cream.

Assemble the dessert. Stretch a piece of plastic wrap on the 20cm circle ring, pulling it well to stretch it nicely.  Flip your circle over a baking dish that fits in your freezer and place a strip of acetate film on the inside to facilitate un-molding later. Pour all the mousse into the circle, then smooth roughly. Take the cookie out of the freezer and push it upside down into the foam (the smooth side of the cookie up). The mousse should be flush with the cookie, smooth over what is needed. Reserve the dessert in the freezer overnight.

Make the dark chocolate buttercream. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until it is smooth. Turn the speed to slow, add the icing sugar and cocoa powder and beat until combined. Pour the milk and vanilla extract then add the salt and continue beating until well combined. Increase the speed to high and beat the frosting for a couple of minutes. Place in a piping bag fitted with a 1M tip or another star-shaped tip of your choice.

Make the chocolate suspension for velvet effect.  Melt milk chocolate and cocoa butter in a double-boiler. Filter and place the mixture into the tank of your sprayer. Temperature should be 98 F. Un-mold your dessert and immediately spray the chocolate on it. Ideally, do this inside a dishwasher with racks removed. Decorate the cake with the cream and buttercream, add sprinkles of your choice. Leave in the fridge to thaw for at least one hour before serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Well, I do realize that it seems a bit of a stretch to post this recipe as simple and then come up with quite a few components to make it. As I mentioned, you can simplify it quite a bit. For instance, you can skip the two different types of piped decoration and do a drizzle of melted dark chocolate all over it. That would work well. A shower of golden sprinkles for fun and a bit of a dressed up look. The velvet spray is also optional. I find it fun to do, though, and it helps me deal with guilty feelings of having a sprayer sitting in the basement just for my patisserie adventures. It’s nice to put it to use.

On that note, three things are worth mentioning. First, you must strain the melted chocolate + cocoa butter before pouring it in the sprayer. If you look at my photo above, you’ll notice how much stuff gets retained in the sieve. That could conceivably clog the sprayer and you don’t want that at all. Second, if you are using a regular paint sprayer for chocolate work, the container is large, so what works very well is to place a much smaller plastic cup inside, so that you don’t need to make a huge amount of chocolate suspension. I used an empty Benecol container. And third, do the spraying inside an empty dishwasher, because it is a messy process and all you need to do after is turn the dishwasher on.

We took this cake to a dinner party at a friend’s home, so I snapped the pictures with my cell phone very quickly. I admit they are not prize-winning shots. At any rate, everybody raved about the dessert. The cookie component goes very well with the creamy mousse, and it had just the right thickness, don’t try to make it thinner because it won’t work the same way. I loved the contrast of the sharp cocoa buttercream with the milk chocolate cream and mousse, but the cake can shine with only one of the piped toppings.

Maxime, thanks for a lovely recipe, I am thinking of many variations in the future.

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FOUR YEARS AGO: Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Cake

FIVE YEARS AGO: Sourdough Rye Bread with Flaxseeds and Oats

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