Saturday, November 27, 2010

Daring Bakers-Apple and Lavender Crostata

I finished on time this month, yeah! Ironically, I made the same crostata for Thanksgiving but forgot to take a picture of it, and probably it was for the better as by the time it came out of the oven there was no day light to take a picture of it. I served it with caramel ice cream, and it was devoured. This tart went in the oven that it was almost dark so the pictures are really bad, plus it is really hard to take pictures of brown food, see the difference with the rose photo, taken at the same time.

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

Not sure how to fix the following format, I tried everything, short of rewriting the post, not sure how it happened, apologies.....

When people ask me what my specialty is as a pastry chef I immediately say tarts and cookies, so I was happy to have the excuse to make a crostata for the DB challenge, I will never tire of them. A crostata is essentially a tart, in Italy we mostly make two types, the classic version with pastry cream and fresh fruit, and the one with jam and a lattice top. Because of my love for fresh fruit tarts (crostate), I started making them in college whenever I was going somewhere for dinner, soon I was making them all the time, just so I could eat them. Crostate sealed my fate I believe, as I started trying different versions and never stopped. I believe that what attract me of this dessert is the endless variations. The crust can be flavored by adding lemon zest, vanilla, or ground nuts, and it can be baked blind or with the filling, depending on the recipe. The sky is the limit when it comes to the filling, as you can see from the many versions of other daring bakers. You can find the complete recipe here.

Simona, whom I first met in cyber space and then in real life, gave us two versions of pasta frolla to try, and complete freedom when it came to the filling. Pasta frolla is a type of paté sucree, and it is made by just making a mound of flour, adding the butter in pieces, and binding everything with an egg or few yolks, it comes together in minutes and it is delicious. I struggled for few days to decide what to make, since there are so many fantastic flavors I could have used. This particular tart became my favorite for a while, I first saw it in the 1992 book Savory to Sweet: Pies and Tarts, which is no longer published. I have made this tart dozen of times, it is not only stunning but also delicious. This tart comes from Normandie, a region in France where they grow apples and lavender, thus the pairing of the two in this tasty tart. The recipe for frangipane is mine, the one from the book is a little too rich for my taste. You can omit the lavender if you prefer (I used a tablespoon), but I urge you to try it, it goes really well with the apples.

This bad photo reminds me of pre-digital photos from the 60's, but can't do better than this

Pasta frolla


  • 1/2 c. minus 1 tablespoon [105 ml, 100 g, 3 ½ oz] superfine sugar (see Note 1) or a scant 3/4 cup [180ml, 90g, 3 oz] of powdered sugar
  • 1 and 3/4 cup [420 ml, 235 g, 8 1/4 oz.] unbleached all-purpose flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 stick [8 tablespoons / 4 oz. / 115 g] cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • grated zest of half a lemon (you could also use vanilla sugar as an option, see Note 2)
  • 1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten in a small bowl

Note 1: Superfine sugar is often also referred to as ultrafine, baker’s sugar or caster sugar. It’s available in most supermarkets. If you cannot find “superfine” sugar, you can make your own by putting some regular granulated sugar in a food processor or blender and letting it run until the sugar is finely ground.

Note 2: There are different ways of making vanilla sugar. I keep vanilla beans in a jar half-filled with sugar until I need to use them, for example, to make vanilla ice cream. After I remove the split bean from the custard that will go into the ice cream maker, I rinse it, dry it and put it back in the jar with sugar.

Making pasta frolla by hand:

  1. Whisk together sugar, flour and salt in a bowl.
  2. Rub or cut the butter into the flour until the mixture has the consistency of coarse crumbs. You can do this in the bowl or on your work surface, using your fingertips or an implement of choice.
  3. Make a well in the center of the mounded flour and butter mixture and pour the beaten eggs into it (reserve about a teaspoon of the egg mixture for glazing purposes later on – place in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to use).
  4. Add the lemon zest to your flour/butter/egg mixture.
  5. Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the solid ingredients, and then use your fingertips.
  6. Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball.
  7. Shape the dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. You can refrigerate the dough overnight.

Making pasta frolla with a food processor:

  1. Put sugar, flour, salt, and lemon zest in the food processor and pulse a few times to mix.
  2. Add butter and pulse a few times, until the mixture has the consistency of coarse meal.
  3. Empty food processor's bowl onto your work surface
  4. See step 3 above and continue as explained in the following steps (minus the lemon zest, which you have already added).

Variation for Version 1 of pasta frolla:

If you want, you can make the pasta frolla using a combination of all-purpose flour and whole-wheat pastry flour.

If you choose to try this variation, use 1 cup [240 ml, 135 g, 4 3/4 oz.] unbleached all-purpose flour and 3/4 cup [180 ml, 100 g, 3.5 oz.] whole-wheat pastry flour.


4 oz. butter, at room temperature
1/2 Cup sugar (100 gr)
1 egg
2 Cups ground almonds (hazelnuts would work as well)

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and the sugar until fluffy, add the egg, and beat until well incorporated. Scrape the side of the bowl and add the ground almonds. Spread evenly in the unbaked tart shell. Frangipane keeps few days in the refrigerator and can be frozen for weeks.


Peel, halve, and core 4 apples (I used Golden delicious). Cut each half in very thin slices, keeping the pieces together. Sprinkle one tablespoon of lavender flowers on the unbaked shell, then spread the soft frangipane on top. Add the sliced apples fanning the slices as shown in the pictures. Bake at 350F until the frangipane is set and the apples start to color. Brush the top with diluted and strained apricot preserve to give the tart a beautiful shiny look (warm up few tablespoons of jam with a little water, bring to a boil and then strain any fruit pieces out).

Many thanks to Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice and Lisa of La Mia Cucina, founders of Daring Bakers, and to Simona for choosing this month's challenge.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Squash Doughnut-A Daring Bakers Challenge

I have been a member of the Daring Bakers since March 2009 and sadly I haven't been able to participate every month. October's deadline caught me by surprise while working part time for a caterer. I was working so hard I didn't even realized it was the 27th until I started seeing doughnut posts going up. I really wanted to try participating in the doughnut challenge, especially since there were so many variations to choose from. Doughtnuts have been having a ranaissance lately, recipes have popped up in many food blogs, and Lara Ferroni, a very talented food photographer, just came out with a doughnut book. Since I missed the deadline, I challenged myself to eventually try all the recipes we were given to choose from, and started with the pumpkin doughnuts, which are not leavened by yeast, but by baking powder and soda instead. The recipe is really straightforward and simple. I used roasted Cabocha squash instead of the canned pumpkin for convenience, since I had it at home, and for flavor as well. The taste and consistency reminded me of little doughnuts called Castagnole, normally prepared in Italy during the Carnival. Needless to say, they went fast!

The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.

I added the post lines just for the sake of being correct, and presented the recipe as written by Lori. I hope you will try it as it is worth it.

Pumpkin Doughnuts

Preparation time:
Hands on prep time - 15 minutes
Chilling time - 3 hours
Cooking time - 10 minutes

Yield: About 24 doughnuts & 24 doughnut holes

All Purpose Flour 3.5 cup / 840 ml / 490 gm / 17 ¼ oz
Baking Powder 4 teaspoon / 20 ml / 24 gm / .85 oz
Table Salt 1 teaspoon / 5 ml / 6 gm / .2 oz
Cinnamon, ground 1 teaspoon / 5 ml / 6 gm / .2 oz
Ginger, ground ½ teaspoon / 2.5 ml / 3 gm / .1 oz
Baking Soda ½ teaspoon / 2.5 ml / 3 gm / .1 oz
Nutmeg, ground ¼ teaspoon / 1.25 ml / 1.5 gm / .05 oz
Cloves, ground 1/8 teaspoon / .6 ml / ¾ gm / .025 oz
White Granulated Sugar 1 cup / 240 ml / 225 gm / 8 oz
Butter, Unsalted 3 Tablespoon / 45 ml / 42 gm / 1.5 oz
Egg, Large 1
Egg Yolk, Large 2
Pure Vanilla Extract 1 teaspoon / 5 ml
Buttermilk 1/2 cup + 1 Tablespoon / 135 ml /
Pumpkin 1 cup / 240 ml / 285 gm / 10 oz (Canned pure pumpkin or fresh cooked and pureed pumpkin – DON’T use pumpkin pie mix!) I used squash instead
Canola Oil DEPENDS on size of vessel you are frying in – you want THREE (3) inches of oil (can substitute any flavorless oil used for frying)

Powdered Sugar Glaze:

Powdered (Icing) Sugar 2 cup / 480 ml / 250 gm / 9 oz
Whipping Cream (About 32% butter fat) 4 Tablespoon + more if needed / 60 ml


  1. Whisk together the first 8 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until blended (the mixture will be grainy and not smooth). Beat in egg, then yolks and vanilla. Gradually beat in buttermilk; beat in pumpkin. Using rubber spatula, fold in dry ingredients in 4 additions, blending gently after each addition. Cover with plastic; chill 3 hours.
  2. Sprinkle 2 rimmed baking sheets lightly with flour. Press out 1/3 of dough on floured surface to 1/2- to 2/3-inch (12 mm to 15 mm) thickness. Using 2 1/2-inch (65 mm) -diameter round cutter, cut out dough rounds. Arrange on sheets. Repeat with remaining dough in 2 more batches. Gather dough scraps. Press out dough and cut out more dough rounds until all dough is used.
  3. Using 1-inch (25 mm) diameter round cutter, cut out center of each dough round to make doughnuts and doughnut holes.
  4. Line 2 baking sheets with several layers of paper towels. Pour oil into large deep skillet to depth of 1 1/2 inches (40 mm). Attach deep-fry thermometer and heat oil to 365°F to 370°F (185°C to 188°C). Fry doughnut holes in 2 batches until golden brown, turning occasionally, about 2 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Fry doughnuts, 3 or 4 at a time, until golden brown, adjusting heat to maintain temperature, about 1 minute per side. Using slotted spoon, transfer doughnuts to paper towels to drain. Cool completely.
Sugar Glaze
  1. Whisk powdered sugar and 4 tablespoons whipping cream to blend. Whisk in additional cream, 1 teaspoon at a time, to form medium thick glaze.
  2. Can be made up to 3 hours ahead.
  3. Add doughnut holes to bowl of spiced sugar and toss to coat.
  4. Spread doughnuts on 1 side with powdered sugar glaze.
  5. Arrange doughnuts, glazed side up, on racks. Let stand until glaze sets, at least 30 minutes.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Caramel Ice Cream

I am not in a fall funk anymore, I have embraced the fall fruits to the fullest, and am getting excited by the endless possibilities. Last night I needed an ice cream to go with an apple tart Tatin I made for some friends who came over for dinner. At the risk of almost repeating myself, I decided to try another caramel ice cream, because caramel and apples were made for each other, don't you agree? This time I used a recipe I found in Emily Luchetti's A Passion for Ice Cream, and I want to share it as it is one of the best ice creams I have made (and it was a pleasure to hear how much my guests loved it too, especially Rahel). I have spoken about this super talented pastry chef before, her books are amazing and a constant font of inspiration and awesome recipes. This ice cream recipe is no different, just perfect. I only added some fresh ginger since the ice cream was the closing note on an Asian inspired dinner.

There are two ways to caramelize sugar, a "wet" method that uses water, and a "dry" method where the sugar is melted directly. I have had plenty of wet caramel batches crystallize before my eyes, so I now exclusively use the dry method for small batches of caramel. The recipe calls for the wet method. Whatever method you use, watch the pot and when the sugar starts turning color, lower to flame. The caramel has to be a medium/dark color to have plenty of flavor, but not too dark that tastes burnt.

Most ice cream recipes containing eggs call for heating the egg/cream mixture over the stove to custard consistency. This step is unnecessary if the cream mixture is bubbly hot when tempering the yolks, the temperature is high enough to custard the yolks. By doing it this way, you won't run the risk of overcooking the yolks.

Caramel Ice Cream
adapted from Emily Luchetti

7 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 oz of fresh ginger, thinly sliced

1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 cups milk

In a heavy sauce pan, stir together the sugar and water and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat to high and cook, without stirring, until the sugar is medium amber in color. Remove from the heat. Slowly pour 1/4 cup of cream until combined. Be careful as the cream will bubble up and splatter. Add the remaining cream, 1/4 cup at the time, whisking after each addition. Add the ginger pieces and cook on low until all the caramel has dissolved. Turn the heat off and let the ginger steep for an hour. Reheat the caramel to almost boiling, pour it into the yolks to slowly temper and custard them. The caramel base should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. To immediately cool the custard, add the cold milk and the salt. Strain the ice cream base and chill completely. Freeze according to your ice cream machine.


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