Monthly Archives: July 2015

A Caramel Walnut Tart For any Occasion

DSC_0227

When I was in culinary school I had the honor of being instructed by a very fine chef who was about 70 and European.  He had a heavy German accent, could still bend a sheet tray in half, and had more energy than most 20-year-olds I know.  He was a vibrant man and a talented baker who specialized in showcasing simple yet elegant desserts.  One dessert he taught us was a caramel walnut tart.  I had never seen walnuts (or caramel for that matter) served in this way before.  This tart encompasses all those features we love in a good dessert – crunch, the toasted aroma of nuts, smooth caramel, and elegance.  It is not too tricky.  The only technical part comes at the end when you must temper the eggs.  Try it out for your next dinner party or for any occasion where you want to impress. It pairs beautifully with freshly whipped cream and fresh fruit. 🙂

Caramel Walnut Tart (Recipe adapted from Culinary Institute of America)

Tart dough

  • 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 4 oz butter

Walnut Caramel Filling

  • 8 oz granulated sugar
  • 1 oz water
  • 9 oz heavy cream
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 6 oz walnuts, coarsely chopped

1. First make the tart dough.  Combine all ingredients on the counter and chop in the butter until it is pea sized.  Use your hands to form the ingredients into a dough.

2. Chill dough for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.

3. Lightly flour the counter and roll out tart dough to fit a 9 inch tart pan.  Press dough into tart pan, cover lightly, and chill for at least 30 minutes.

4. Blind bake tart for 10 minutes on 350 F.  Bake for 10 minutes with weights or beans.  Tart should be lightly browned.

5. Toast walnuts for 6-7 minutes at 350 F until golden brown.

6. Line dough with the walnuts.

7. Heat the heavy cream and keep in a warm place.

8. Cook the sugar and water in heavy pot over high heat.  Stir until the sugar crystals dissolve.  Allow sugar/water to cook until the sugar takes on a light caramel color.

9. Add the hot cream, stirring with a whisk.

10. Temper the eggs very slowly with the caramel mixture.  Do this slowly or the eggs will cook!!!!

11. Strain the egg/caramel mixture into the tart.

12. Bake at 325 F until the custard sets.  (about 12-15 minutes)

DSC_0220 strawberrieswalnut tart

Hazelnut Torte – Hazelnuts Never Tasted So Good!

hazelnuts hazelnuts

Celiac’s disease and gluten intolerance is now affecting thousands of people around the world.  But having Celiac’s, which makes one intolerant to wheat, barley, and rye should not inhibit a person from enjoying a great dessert.  Last week I made a hazelnut cake which is great for the gluten intolerant individual.  It is rich and tasty and has the toasty taste and aroma of hazelnuts.  But happily, it is gluten free! Below is the recipe for the cake, the hazelnut filling and the chocolate buttercream I used for decoration.  Bon appetit!

Hazelnut Cake (adapted from Viennese Desserts Made Easy by Georgina Gronner)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9 inch springform pan.

2. Toast peeled hazelnuts in 350 degree oven until they are a light golden color. (About 7-10 minutes).

3. Whisk egg yolks, egg, and sugar together on high in a mixer until they are pale yellow and fluffy.  (about 5-6 minutes).

4. Fold in ground hazelnuts with rubber spatula.

5. In a separate bowl whik egg whites until they make a soft peak.  Be careful not to overwhip.

6. Stir 1/3 of egg whites into egg yolks to lighten the batter.  Gently fold in remaining egg whites and pour into prepared pan. Bake immediately.

7. Bake about 30 minutes until cake is golden brown and springs back.

Chocolate Hazelnut Filling (adapted from Viennese Desserts Made Easy by Georgina Gronner)

  • 2/3 cup ground hazelnuts
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3 tablespoons rum

1. Cook hazelnuts and sugar over medium heat until hazelnuts and sugar are a light caramel color.  On low heat add egg yolks, milk and chocolate and cook until mixture thickens.  Cool hazelnut mixture.

2.  Whip butter until light and fluffy in a mixer with the paddle attachment. Add hazelnut mixture and whip until filling is light and fluffy.

Chocolate buttercream (adapted from Culinary Institute of America Italian Buttercream recipe)

  • 4 oz egg whites
  • 8 oz sugar
  • 12 oz cold butter, cubed into 1 inch pieces
  • 4 oz chocolate
  • 3 tablespoons rum

1. Prepare egg whites in mixing bowl with whisk attachment

2.  Measure sugar into heavy bottomed pot.  Add water to sugar until sugar is consistency of wet sand.  Wash down sides of pot with water so that NO SUGAR is on sides of pot.  Cook sugar until it reaches 240 degrees F.  When sugar is at 235 F start whipping egg whites.

3. Egg whites should be opaque and mixer should be on medium low speed.  Start streaming in hot sugar slowly.  After all sugar is incorporated turn mixer to high and whisk until the bowl feels body temperature.

4. Add butter slowly and whisk until the mixture emulsifies.  It should look satiny and taste smooth and creamy.

5. Melt chocolate and stream into buttercream when the chocolate is body temperature.  Add rum.

Cake Assembly

1. To assemble cake, slice cake into three layers.  Use hazelnut filling between 1st and 2nd and 2nd and third layer.  Use chocolate buttercream to ice and finish cake.  If desired, caramelized hazelnuts can be used for decoration. Enjoy a slice of this cake with Frangelico liqueur.  This hazelnut liqueur will pick up the hazelnut flavors in the cake quite nicely.

hazelnut cake

Better Banana Bread

banana breadAh banana bread, the ubiquitous go-to dessert of all home bakers- right after chocolate chip cookies.  Banana bread is great because it easy, beloved by all, and requires virtually no baking utensils.  The other great thing about banana bread is that it is easy to “play” with the recipe.

When people find out that I am a baker I almost always get this question, “So, uh, baking is really precise right?” After which said person usually explains to me that they love cooking because there is no precision and that baking requires too much technique.  Well, my friends, I beg to differ! Baking does require precision in its elements. (e.g. amount of liquid to protein to fat to sugar). But, if you understand how these ingredients interact with each other you can play with them all you like. I don’t want to make this post into a lengthy tutorial but I would like to briefly review the role each ingredient plays in banana bread.

SUGAR

Sugar is integral to a baked product in many ways such as adding flavor or aiding to build structure.  But the key thing to remember about sugar is that it is hygroscopic. This means that sugar attracts water.  Adding more sugar can think out a batter since the sugar pulls water away from other ingredients (like flours and proteins).   So you can remove sugar from a product for dietary reasons but remember that it will change the consistency of the product.

FAT

Fat helps to emulsify ingredients together and add flavor.  Butter, of course, is one of my favorite fats but fat can come from other places too like oils or nuts.  Butter also softens dough and develops the crumb or structure of the product.

FLOUR

Flour adds strength and bulk to a product. It absorbs liquids and adds flavor. Flour also adds gluten which can toughen a baked product.  Gluten is desirable in breads and less desirable in cookies and cakes where one would like a tender, soft crumb.

LEAVENING

Banana bread calls for baking soda so that is the only leavening ingredient I will discuss here.  Baking soda reacts with an acid when moisture is present and is a mild leavening agent.  In the case of banana bread, the baking soda is reacting with the mild acidity in the bananas.  (Bananas have a pH of about 5).  Be careful when playing around with baking soda- add too much and you coulld give your product a chemical taste.  If you want to create a super soft banana bread you can add 1/8 cup of buttermilk or two tbsp of sour cream.  These acids will react with the baking soda in the recipe resulting in a tender crumb.

Now that you know the basics, play around! And if you are looking for even more detail on baking terminology check out this site.  Below is my banana bread, created after some careful tweaking.  I would love to hear back from you about your experiments and adventures with banana bread. Message me and let me know what you have learned!

CHRISSY’S EASY MIX BANANA BREAD

  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • 1/2 cup nuts toasted (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)
  • 2 tbsp sour cream (optional)

Mash bananas and mix with melted butter, egg, vanilla paste, and granulated sugar. In a separate bowl combine flour, baking soda, salt. Gently stir dry ingredients into the wet (do not overmix).  Add your optional ingredients if you like at this time.  Spray or grease a small metal loaf pan.  Pour in banana bread batter and bake at 350 F for 40-50 minutes until golden brown.

The BEST way to enjoy Beets

Have you ever eaten something so wonderful and pure and yet so simple that it surprised you?  I have- and it is beets.  Beets are one of those forgotten vegetables.  Or what I like to call scary vegetables. Scary vegetables are vegetables you pass in the grocery store that have long stalks and leaves, and crazy curly cue vines coming out of them that make you wonder “What is that?” and “How would I even begin to prepare it?”  Beets (like anything) should never come out of a can.  They should be enjoyed- fresh-in the lazy days of summer.  Try standard red beets and enjoy how their glossy maroon color dress up your summer dinner table. Experiment with golden beets and their yellow hue, or even better candy-cane striped beets- a beet bred for its concentric circles of red and white.  Beets have a subtle yet beautiful flavor that should never be tarnished.  Which is why I recommend just a simple summer salad when preparing this vegetable.  Sometimes vegetables remind me of people. If an artichoke is your prickly old uncle then I would think of beets as being the elegant young lady at the dinner party.  Simply dressed, beautifully presented, and always just right with anything.  So allow me to digress away from butter today and share a little recipe with you that has no butter at all!

Beet Salad

  • 3-5 beets
  • Foil
  • Green onions
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • Vinegar to taste
  • Olive Oil to taste

Wash beets and cut off stalks. Wrap each beet in aluminum foil and place on metal baking tray also lined with foil.  Bake in oven preheated to 375 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 1-2 hours or until a small paring knife easily cuts through the beet.  Unwrap the beet and allow to cool.

Slice each beat into circles about ¼ to ½ inch thick and pile into a salad bowl.  Season to taste with oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Enjoy at room temperature for maximum flavor.

Beets
Beautiful Beets!

Beets

5 Tools Every Baker Should Own

Whether you are new to baking or a seasoned professional there are several key tools you should own.  For a novice baker especially it can be daunting to assume that you must purchase a mixer, pastry blender, seasoned pot, or any number of specific tools.  I am going to allay your fears today by showing you that there only a few tools you must posses to make almost anything.  Save for a mixer that is needed to whip buttercream, meringue, mousse, etc. most items can be made completely by hand.  Even cream can be whipped by hand which I know because I once held a cream whipping contest with a friend wherein we each took a bowl of liquid cream and whipped it vigorously with a fork to see who could fluff it the fastest.  I did it in eight minutes. And have some nice biceps to prove it.  But I digress.  Below are what I consider to be the pivotal tools for any baker’s success.

1) THE RUBBER SPATULA

Use it to scrape down a bowl or spread a buttercream.  A good spatula made out of heavy, pliable plastic is a baker’s best friend.  Pliable is a key word here.  You want the spatula to bend liberally without breaking to really get into the crevices of a bowl.

2) THE OFFSET SPATULA

Use it to ice cakes, finish a cake, or adhere icing.  Use it to apply glaze and smooth it quickly.  Heat it up and spread it over cream to create that perfect flat finish.  Once you start icing cakes the offset will be your best friend.  My favorite one is about eight inches long and has a wooden grip.  It was given to me by a favorite French chef I idolized in culinary school.  I use it for everything from birthday cakes to wedding cakes.

3) THE WHISK

For whipping eggs or beating together a filling.  The whisk is how a baker combines ingredients and aerates liquids.  The whisk is used to get the lumps out of buttercream and stir through a simple sauce.  Buy one with a good strong handle and durable metal prongs.

4) THE WOODEN ROLLING PIN

No self respecting baker would be caught without a wooden rolling pin.  It is heavy and has the weight of the wood so it can be used to pound out butter for puff pastry or slap down some shortbread.  If you are a baker of bread you will come to rely on your rolling pin heavily.  For pies, tarts, or cookies the wooden rolling pin is ideal.  Wipe it down gently with a damp paper towel only.

5) THE PROBE THERMOMETER

This bad boy is your timer and thermometer all rolled into one.  All probe thermometers can be toggled between Celsius and Fahrenheit so you can use it for any manner of recipe testing.  Probe thermometers are necessary for candy making but also useful when making mousses or buttercream.  And every one needs a timer. Who hasn’t had five things they are watching in the oven and on the stove at the same time?

Of course this list is really pared down to the bare essentials.  If you would like a more detailed list of baker’s tools check out this site.