Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Daring Bakers-Pecan Tarlets with Maple Mousse

It is that time of the month again, the 27th, and I am ready! This month's challenge was to create edible receptacles for the maple mousse we were given to try. I especially liked the recipes of this challenge because there is no gluten involved. Evelyne provided us with the recipe to make nut cups for the mousse, and I also tried a mini tart recipe I have had in my "to try" folder, which is also gluten free.

The April 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Evelyne of the blog Cheap Ethnic Eatz. Evelyne chose to challenge everyone to make a maple mousse in an edible container. Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 27th to May 27th at!

Evelyne, a Quebec native, gave us few suggestions for the "containers", one included bacon. I have to say, despite liking savory desserts I am also very traditional, and bacon is not something I have tried in desserts, I can't quite go there (can I also confess without offending anyone that I am not really fond of bacon?). She also gave us a recipe for nut cups which were super easy to make and tasted great....did I mention gluten free?

I decided to use two flavor combinations, maple/pecan/banana, and maple/coconut/lemon/blueberry. For the first combination I used pecans for the nut cups, sautéed some bananas with sugar, a little butter, and rum, and then topped the mousse with chocolate pecan dragées. For the coconut combination I made a Meyer lemon curd and used blueberries to balance the sweetness and add color.

I wish I remember where I found the recipe for the coconut tartlets, I normally write the source next to the title, not this time. I apologize to the author for not giving the credit. Both mixtures for the cups came together in no time, the only drawback is that the edges are not perfect, but I like rustic anyway.

For the recipes and to see other wonderful creations check out the daring bakers site here.

Coconut tartlets
3 egg whites
3 cups unsweetened coconut
3/4 cup sugar

Mix all the ingredients together. Press 1 inch balls into mini muffin pans sprayed with no-stick spray. You can use your fingers wet with water, or a mortar pestle if it fits the cups. I only made a third of this recipe and I got about 16 mini tartlets on a mini muffin mold.

Meyer Lemon Curd
adapted from Passion for Dessert

3 whole eggs
3 yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Meyer lemon juice
Zest of two lemons
1.5 oz unsalted butter

Mix the eggs and the yolks with the sugar, add the juice and the zest, mix well. Cook on a double boiler until thickened. Add the butter, stir to melt, and refrigerate, covered. I only make a third of this recipe and it was enough for the 16 tartlets.

Chocolate Pecan Dragée

1/2 cup sugar
2 pounds pecans
2 tablespoons butter

Heat the nuts in a warm oven. Caramelize the sugar to a deep amber color, add the warm nuts, coat well, turn the flame off, and add the butter. Mix until all the butter is melted and the nuts are well coated. Spread on a silpat-lined pan and divide the nuts from one another, until they don't stick together any longer (wearing latex gloves helps with the heat). Cool completely and store in an air tight container. Warning, these are addictive!

Melt some 60% chocolate over a double boiler and pour just few tablespoons on the cooled pecans. With a spatula mix the nuts until well coated, and chill. Repeat this coating 8-10 times, mixing well after every chocolate addition to avoid the nuts to stick together. Once the nuts look uniformly coated dust with cocoa powder. The secret is only to add just a spoon full to two of chocolate every time to allow a very thin coat. By stirring the nuts while the chocolate cools you create a nice dull thin coat.

My notes:
* I sprayed the mini muffin pans with no stick spray and that worked well.
* To help press the nut and coconut mixture into the pan I used a marble pestle that was the right size, and kept dipping it in water to avoid sticking. If you don't have anything of the right side you could press them with your hand and wet finger tips.
* I baked the tartlets like the recipe suggested but ended up lowering the temperature quite a bit to allow the bottom to cook without burning the edges.
* Reading few posts of the other bakers in the DB forum I realized that the mousse was too sweet. I decided to cut down on the amount of maple syrup in the recipe to just a cup and withholding some of the gelatin. The amount of mousse was really large, and I had leftovers after filling the 16 mini tartlets.
* The nut bowl recipe made 16 or so mini tartlets.

This was a fun challenge and I loved to see all the amazing creations of other daring bakers. Thank you Evelyne for choosing this month's theme and thanks to Lis and Ivonne, the wonderful creators of this group that keeps us pushing deadlines and gives us the spark to try something new every month.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A New Hobby, Recycling, and a New Table for Food Photography

When I saw this post by Kellypea of Sass and Veracity, I knew I had to make one table for food photography too, I also thought...why didn't I think of that earlier? There are so many talented food bloggers who take gorgeous pictures and to name just two, I love sites like Aran's Cannelle et Vanille or Diane and Todd's White on rice couple for their use of rustic tables. I am not a professional by any mean, but taking pictures is something I love and always look forward to more learning, a lot in my case. Having the right tools really helps, so do food props.

I decided to take a break from working for a while, long was too far from my house, the commute was really affecting me (falling asleep at a light for example!). I am now working on my other creative side, the one that has to do with house decor and fabric, which was seriously neglected for a long time. I have many projects in my list that require either a brush and paint or needles and threads, and I am trying to use my time well. I will keep baking though, that it my first passion anyway.

I had an old redwood planter that had lost the bottom, it had literally turned into soil it was so rotten. Since I am crazy about recycling and reusing I kept the useless planter trying to decide how to use it. One idea was to attach metal netting to turn it into a compost sift, but after seeing Kelly's photos I immediately knew what to do with it. I didn't want to spend too much time on this project, and after considering between driving distances to find an environmentally friendly paint, or go to my local paint store which was on my way, I settled on some water based acrylic paint. There were so many whites I could have chosen but I settled for a decorator white. Time and photos will tell whether it was a good choice.

The wood was really dirty but after some sanding it turned nice and smooth. I did just one coat since the paint is really thick and I didn't want to lose the wood details. I didn't use a primer so in few months the paint may peel off, which will add to the piece character I suppose.

Here is a detail of the veins and of a rustic corner. I wish the weather would cooperate, but it is raining and the before and after pictures look really bad. Are you jealous? Now I have to find a place where to store it....And if my neighbor would give me a wonderfully weathered piece of wood I saw in her yard that belonged to a bench, I would either use it as is or stain it with a different color.

San Francisco Bake Sale 2011-Join US!

I am really excited that I will be participating to this year's San Francisco's Food Blooger Bake Sale, held on May 14th, from 10AM to 6PM. The location might change due to the huge participation, so I will update it when I get a confirmation. Last year I was working like a maniac so I couldn't go and I was really bummed, but this year I will be there! I am working on a list of gluten-free treats to package and sell, this is going to be fun, and for a good cause. If you are in the Bay Area, love sweets, want to meet some of your favorite flood bloogers, and would love to support a great cause, please come by, it is going to be one tasty event.

This national event was organized last year by Gaby Dalkin of What's Gaby Cooking in an effort to help fight childhood hunger in the United States. The funds raised from this sale will support the organization Share Our Strenght's effort to feed millions of children in our own homeland. More information on this organization can be found in their website. Last year the SF bake sale raised $1,650, and this year the organizers are hoping for more. So come and give for this great cause.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Citrus Salad with Grapefruit Sorbet and Cornmeal Shortbread

I know that the citrus fruit season is coming to an end soon, but if you can find the time this is one light and flavorful dessert. I am not sure why I never made sorbet at home before, maybe because I love ice cream so much that I never took the time to try it. This sorbet is the easiest and oh so refreshing. Stay tuned for more sorbet recipes.

For the citrus salad I cut each fruit segments out, which is really time consuming but results in a pretty composition. If you don't want to go through the trouble you could remove the skin of the fruit with a sharp knife and slice the fruit instead. If you opt for the segments, make sure your knife is sharp otherwise you will end up with just juice and little pulp.

I used a combination of cara cara oranges, blood oranges, and star ruby grapefruit. For the sorbet I used another variety of grapefruit, but I forgot the name, it has an orange yellow skin and a nice pinkish red flesh so the color of the sorbet turned light pink. Any combination would work, but for the sake of the presentation I would include some blood oranges as well.

It took me a while to decide how to serve the two components as I wanted to add something crunchy to the plate. I consulted few books and I settled on Claudia Fleming's cornmeal shortbread because cornmeal and citrus really work together. I have tried two other recipes from her book The Last Course and they didn't work, so I was a little concerned when I put the cookies in the oven, fearing the worst. Luckily the shortbread worked, came out delicious and crunchy. On an interesting note, this book is out of print and sells new on Amazon for $245, can you believe it? I wish I had bought two back then...

You can make each component by itself, or serve them all together. Make ahead note: the short bread dough needs chilling so it could be made the day before. The sorbet base needs to be chilled too before being frozen, so plan ahead. The fruit salad can be made the day before as well, cutting the segments is time consuming so plan ahead too.

Citrus-Cornmeal Shortbread
adapted from The Last Course

8 oz unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tsp grated citrus zest (I used grapefruit)
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 Tbs coarse cornmeal
1/2 tsp salt

Beat butter and sugar until creamy and smooth. Add the zest and mix well. With a spatula clean the side of the bowl and add the flour. Mix on slow until just incorporated, cleaning the sides few times to make sure the mixture is even. At this point you can bake the cookies in a traditional circular shape, or a square, or roll the dough to a 3/4" height and cut little long rectangles. Score the dough with a fork, and chill it well before baking it at 300F, until barely colored. The recipe can be easily doubled and the extra cookies can be cut and frozen raw for later use.

Grapefruit Sorbet
adapted from The Last Course

3 cups strained grapefruit juice
1 1/2 cups simple syrup*

Mix the juice and simple syrup, chill for three hours. Freeze according to your ice cream machine instructions. *Mix 1 part water and 1 part sugar (1 cup:1 cup), bring to a boil and let cool.

Citrus Salad

A mixture of citrus fruit, peeled and segments cut out (keep the juice that drips from the fruit). Chill well until ready to serve. Add mint simple syrup to taste.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Country Bread-Tartine Bread Review

Even though I stopped eating gluten few months ago, I couldn't resist eating a fair amount of this bread, it is so good.

I have been a fan of San Francisco famous Tartine Bakery for a while, and if/when I get to open the bakery/café of my dreams (we are working on this, I promise), it will be highly influenced by their model. I will be selling this bread for sure.

I bought the book Tartine Bread on a whim, while waiting in line to pay for few items, after all I had to since I also own Tartine's other book, right? I had seen and heard about their new bread book, I really wanted to try making Chad Robertson's famous bread and see what else he had to offer. The introduction tells you the story of how he learned the art of making bread, about the roads he traveled to get to this particular bread, and it is quite fun to read. The instructions to make his bread are quite long, and could be intimidating, but if you have made bread before they are easily followed.

Can you resist this crust?

For detailed instructions, the recipe, and photos you can check Martha Stewart's site here. I made this bread twice, and it worked like a charm. The starter is super easy to get going (I made a starter before and the recipe was so fussy it was annoying), all you have to do is mix water, half bread flour, and half whole wheat, wait few days and you will have a great starter to work with. The trick to a mild wild starter flavor is to feed it the night before you plan on baking this bread so it won't be sour at all. If the starter is easy, the bread is a work of love though, you have to tend it for few hours, so plan accordingly. I avoided having to stay home all day by letting the bulk fermentation happen overnight, and it worked well since the temperature is still quite cold, in the summer it would be a different story. The second fermentation was done for a long time as well. I think my kitchen temperature never went past 65F this morning, so I was able to leave the house for few hours. Anyhow...once you try this recipe you can adjust the fermentation times to fit your schedule. If you want to speed things up, you can place the dough in a slightly warm oven to shorten the process.

My notes:

*I didn't bake the bread in a Dutch oven since I didn't want to invest in one, I steamed the oven well, and used a perforated pizza pan. The second time I used a pizza stone and it worked well for the small rounds but not for the big loaf, the shape was all warped.

*The bread is really slack due to its 75% hydration so it turns out really flat (that's why baking it in a Dutch oven would help, it allows the bread to rise in a very wet environment). The second time I made little rounds and they turned out pretty well, less flat.

*Because the bread is so slack you have to let it rise in a basket or a bowl otherwise you won't end up with a round shape. I guess the shape of a ciabatta would work too.

*I encourage you to bake the bread to a very dark, almost burnt crust, that is where a lot of the flavor is. The bread that was baked less did not have that interesting earthy flavor, and was a tad chewy.

The rest of the book was a little disappointing as it includes recipes of dishes they serve at their restaurant, I was hoping for more bread material, oh well. In general though, the book is great to have around, but if you don't have a budget for it, or if you don't care for the rest of the book, you can try the link above to find the complete instructions on how to make this bread.

Look at these holes!

I am sending this bread to Susan of Wild Yeast for her weekly showcase of yeasted baked goods, a.k.a. Yeastspotting.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Photos of the Week

Spring has finally arrived and my pear tree is full of blossoms. Last year a neighbor used our pears to make a pear liquor, this year we'll try to grow few pears in bottles, just for fun, stay tuned... I am also thinking of buying a dehydrator since the pears ripen all at the same time and we end up losing 75% of them. Any of you have done that?

Borage flower, I love this stinging plant

Spring also means that it time to clear the garden from dead plants and weed like crazy, so I will have to just rely on photos to show you that I am still around and alive...time to go outside now.

Work has been crazy, this weekend I worked Saturday too so I have not had the time to take any photos of my cooking. I made tons of things, eggplant parmigiana, farro risotto, artichoke pasta, and even some bread, but didn't have time or the light to photograph them. Oh well.....stay tuned for photos of the bread, it is in the oven and I can't wait to taste it.


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