Category Archives: French

French Apple Cake

I think it’s been 6 months since I last posted. I even thought about giving up my little blog. In the end, though, I think I’ll keep going.

I’ve been wanting to this cake for weeks. It’s simple, custardy, and more apple than cake. Here’s the link to the recipe. It’s delicious and super fruity. Make it. Oh, an eat it with ice cream.

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Fruit Galette for Summer


Oregon. Winter is cold and rainy. Spring? Fall? Yup, cold and rainy. But summer, oh, summer–mildly hot, dry, and sunny, they are seriously the best. All you want to do is be outside, hiking, biking and swimming. And when you’re not doing that, you’re popping u-pick berries into your mouth and eating the sweetest peaches, plums and cherries, their juices dribbling down your chin.

I haven’t gone hiking yet (but am going tomorrow), but I’ve definitely eaten my fair share of summer fruit. What with the seemingly endless supply of nectarines, peaches, blueberries and grapes at my parents’ house right now and with the whole family being home, I decided to make a summer pie. Actually, I made a galette, i.e. a free-form pie, but which sounds way more shi shi in French 😀

I ended up making two galettes, each with a different filling (blueberry-nectarine and red grape), and relied on two recipes, one for the crust and blueberry-nectarine filling (via In Erika’s Kitchen) and one for the  grape filling (via Mac and Cheese). As for changes, for the crust, instead of using only all-purpose flour, I used half whole-wheat and half all-purpose. For the grape filling, I used lime zest instead of lemon (didn’t have any lemons at home).

Oh my goodness, there are no words to describe just how delicious each galette turned out. The crust was flaky, soft and so buttery. And the fillings—both amazing. I’d have to say I preferred the grape over the nectarine. Just a personal preference thing, I think.

Make this, make this, make this. And then tell me how it all turns out!

Enjoy!

Fruit Galettes for Summer: Blueberry-Nectarine and Grape (adapted from In Erika’s Kitchen and Mac and Cheese)

Makes two 8-inch galettes

INGREDIENTS

Crust

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour (I used 1 1/4 c. all purpose, 1 1/4 c. whole wheat)

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbsp raw cane sugar

2 sticks (1/2 lb.) unsalted butter, frozen and cut into small cubes (I grated with a cheese grater.)

1/4 cup ice water

1 large egg

2 tsp milk

sugar, for sprinkling

Blueberry-Nectarine Filling

3 cups thinly sliced nectarines

1 cup blueberries (I only had frozen at home.)

1/8 cup cornstarch

1/4 cup raw cane sugar

Grape Filling

4 cups grapes (I used red.)

1/2-3/4 cup raw cane sugar, depending on the sweetness of the grapes

the zest of 1 lemon (I used lime.)

2 tbsp cornstarch

METHOD

Crust

  1. Place the flour, salt, and 2 Tbsp sugar in the food processor and give it a spin to combine. Open the processor and sprinkle the bits of frozen butter over the flour mixture. Pulse five or six times, or until the whole thing inside looks like wet sand. (If doing by hand, combine flour, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl. Then, grate the frozen butter into the bowl and gently rub ingredients together with your fingers.)
  2. Sprinkle over about 1/4 cup of ice water and pulse again in your food processor is such that when you pinch some in your fingers it holds together. If necessary, continue adding small amounts of ice water and pulsing until it does this. (If doing by hand, form a small well in the flour-butter mixture and pour in the water. With a fork, gradually work the dry ingredients into the water. Then, with your hands, very briefly knead until a dough just begins to form.) Turn the dough out onto the counter, divide in half and shape into two disks. Wrap the disks in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Filling

  1. Blueberry-Nectarine: Put the prepared blueberries and nectarines in a mixing bowl with 1/4 cup of the raw sugar and the cornstarch, and mix thoroughly. Let them sit in the sugar-cornstarch mixture at room temperature while the dough is chilling. This will help the fruit juice flow once you get the pie in the oven.
  2. Grape: Crush 3/4 cup of the grapes in a saucepan. Add remaining grapes, sugar, lemon zest, salt, and cornstarch to the crushed grapes. Heat fruit on stove, stirring occasionally until the juice has thickened. Allow to cool.

Assembly

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 450 deg. F. Roll out one of the dough disks into a rough circle. (Don’t worry if it’s not perfect.) Transfer the dough to baking pan lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Arrange the nectarines in a spiral fashion in the middle of the dough, leaving about a 2-inch wide edge around. Fold the edges up over the fruit, leaving the middle part of the arranged fruit exposed. Repeat the same process with the grape filling. Note: If there is excess juice, use a slotted spoon to transfer the fruit, in order to avoid making a big, wet mess. (Oops, I forgot to do this…my wet mess turned into baked solid caramel mess. Still looked and tasted good though!)
  2. Combine the egg and milk, and then with a pastry brush, brush over each galette. Sprinkle sugar over each. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the crust is golden. (I covered them with aluminum foil for the last 5 minutes of baking to avoid over-browning.)
  3. Remove from the oven and allow to cool at least 30 minutes before slicing.

Coconut and Chocolate Pains au Lait

I’m sorry! It’s been ages since my last post! But I promise I have a good excuse—actually, I have a few: I moved in with my brother temporarily, I partied, I said my goodbye to San Francisco, I partied 😛 … and now I am home again. Back to the bird’s nest for 10 days of recharging my batteries and soaking up as much family love as I can before the big move to Perú. (Did I mention already that I’m moving? I can’t remember. Why? For love (when did my life become a cliché?), and I need to find out if it will finally find peace there. When? In 5 days!!)

Life in Oregon is slow—slow driving, slow moving, slow talking, slow everything. It’s taking some getting used to on my part, but it feels kind of good to have time to think and talk. And bake.

I’m so excited about this recipe. It’s one I found a while back on a beautiful blog called Sweet Temptations, and it couldn’t be easier to prepare. The dough is gorgeous—smooth and glossy—and the buns—soft, buttery and briochy. They’re also pretty tasty the next day, especially if you toast them.

The original recipe called for Nutella, which I probably would have used if I’d had it….but I didn’t. My mom had white and dark chocolate chips, flaked almonds and flaked coconut in her cupboard, so I used them instead. A variety of fillings and toppings would work just as well. Another small adjustment I made was to increase the sugar amount from 2 tbsp to 1/4 cup—wanted something a little sweeter for the family.

Enjoy!

Milk Bread with Coconut and Chocolate (recipe adapted from Sweet Temptations)

INGREDIENTS

320 ml (1 1/3 cups) milk

28 g (2 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temp.

1/4 cup sugar

2 large eggs

2/3 tsp salt

540 g (5 cups) all-purpose flour

1 packet (11 g) instant dried yeast (or 4 1/4 tsp active dry)

chocolate chips – dark and white

almond flakes (optional)

brown sugar (optional)

coconut flakes (optional)

METHOD

  1. Beat the eggs, and then whisk in the butter, sugar and milk.
  2. In your stand-mixer, mix together flour, yeast and salt. Make a well in the center. Add 1/3 of the egg mixture and allow to knead (using dough hook attachment) until somewhat combined. Then add the rest of the liquids and knead for another 10 minutes on medium speed.
  3. Put the dough into a large bowl dusted with flour and allow to proof for about an hour until the dough has doubled in size.
  4. Once the dough has proofed, form small balls in your hand and flatten lightly. Add about a tablespoon of chocolate chips and almond flakes in the middle and seal. Continue the process until all the dough has been used. Let the little dough balls rise on a baking sheet for another 45 minutes.
  5. Brush the beaten egg over the pains and then sprinkle some brown sugar and/or coconut flakes over the tops. Put the buns on the middle rack of a pre-heated oven (350 deg. F) and bake for 20 minutes. After the first 10 minutes, you may want to rotate the buns to ensure even baking and browning.

Summer Fruit Cake

Ah, summer in San Francisco. Only here on a warm 80 deg. day is it necessary to pack a sweater and scarf in your purse/bag just in case it gets chilly…and believe me, it always does.  The fickle nature of the weather here has made me truly appreciate those rare run-around-in-shorts days. This Saturday was one of those days. Sunday, too, actually.

I spent most of the weekend outside laying out in the sun, trying to make up for being cold for a year. The only time I was inside was when I was baking this cake. I went a little crazy at the Farmer’s Market—organic peaches and apricots for $0.75/lb. and cherries for $1/lb.? I couldn’t help myself—so had a lot of fruit to use up.

After looking at like 50 recipes for cakes, galettes, and pies, I finally decided on a Joy of Baking recipe for Cherry Cake. It’s a no-fuss, yet pretty cake that is texture-wise a cross between a cake and a clafoutis, i.e. it’s very moist. Flavor-wise, it’s mildly citrusy and sweet and super fruity. I love how the juice from the fruit flavors and sweetens the batter, and also, how you get a piece a fruit with every bite! Tastes like summer…yum.

Enjoy!

Summer Fruit Cake

(adapted from a recipe found on Joy of Baking)

INGREDIENTS

1 lb (454 grams) fresh fruit (I used cherries, peaches and apricots)

1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

2 large eggs

3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar (I used evaporated cane sugar)

1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter,  melted and cooled

1/3 cup (80 ml) milk

1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped

Zest of 1 lemon

METHOD

  1. Preheat oven to 400 deg. F (205 deg. C).  Butter and flour an 9-inch (23 cm) spring form pan and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.  Set aside.
  2. Rinse, dry, and prepare the fruit however you see fit, i.e. peel, remove stone fruit pits, and slice. (I peeled the peaches, then halved and removed the pits from the peaches and apricots, and sliced. For the cherries, I used the end of a round-tipped chopstick to push out the pits, then cut each in half.)  Set aside about 1/2 of the prepped fruit and set aside for topping the cake later.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.
  4. In the bowl of your electric mixer, with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar until thick and lemon colored (about 3-5 minutes).  Add the melted butter, milk, vanilla, and lemon zest and beat just until incorporated.  (I warmed the milk in the microwave just slightly and added in the vanilla bean to infuse in more flavor.) Add the flour mixture and stir just until moistened.  Gently fold in the fruit (but not the half that you have reserved for the top of the cake).   Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with an offset spatula.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from oven.   Quickly arrange the remaining fruit (cherries cut side down) on the top of the cake.  Return the cake to the oven and bake for a further 20 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the cake portion comes out clean. (Mine was not very golden, so I turned the broiler on high and let the cake brown for a minute or two.)
  6. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool slightly.
  7. Serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of softly whipped cream.

Cream Puffs con Crema Pastelera de Tres Tipos

Made these in two rounds.

Round 1: FLOP. The plan was to impress a friend of mine on her birthday with homemade mini profiteroles filled with lucuma pastry cream (the same fruit I used to make cheesecake). I did give them to her, though there was nothing impressive about them. They were these completely deflated, doughy disks that tasted more like pancakes than anything else.

I learned the hard way just how important timing is here. I followed the recipe (found here, courtesy of Closet Cooking) exactly, and everything was fine until I started baking. I don’t think it was the instructions. I think it was a combination of factors—my oven, room temperature, ingredients, measurements, etc., but mostly, I think it was my oven. The puffs were still too moist after the initial 7 minutes of baking, and it being my first time, I didn’t realize that if the puffs aren’t dry enough, they will collapse, which is exactly what happened. Oh, the dissapointment. And I had already told my friend that I was bringing them…

I also had problems with the pastry cream: too much lucuma puree made the cream runny. Actually, this was a problem in Round 2 as well. Will have to work on the amount for next time.

Round 2: SUCCESS! Light, fluffy and crisp puffs that were not only easy to fill, but also were delicious and cute!! And the difference this round? Bake-time. Though I did watch the clock, I actually paid more attention to the look of the puffs as they baked.

After the initial 7 minutes, they still looked moist and even had little beads of moisture on their surface. So I gave them another 3 minutes before sticking the wooden spoon in the door.

I also increased the time with the door ajar (from 5 minutes to 8).

So by the time I was to rotate the tray, the moisture beads had dissipated and seemed dry enough to turn without causing deflation and then bake again. I increased the time from 8 minutes to 10.

Following baking, I very gingerly removed the puffs from the oven, placed them gently onto the counter top and left them to cool for a few hours. And they held up beautifully until it was time to fill them.

Loved all three filling flavors. As I mentioned before, however, I still need to figure out the lucuma puree to pastry cream ratio. Since I’m using frozen puree, it might be wise to strain some of the liquid out next time. If you have access to fresh lucuma, you should definitely use that instead of the puree.

Enjoy!

Cream Puffs con Crema Pastelera de Tres Tipos / with 3 Types of Cream

adapted from Closet Cooking’s adaptation of a Pierre Herme recipe

Cream Puffs (Pate Choux)

1/4 cup whole milk

1/4 cup water

1/2 stick unsalted butter (cut into 8 pieces)

1/8 teaspoon sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

3 eggs (room temperature)

Pastry Cream

1 cup whole milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 egg yolks

3 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch (sifted)

1 1/4 tablespoons unsalted butter (room temperature)

1 tbsp lucuma puree, for the lucuma cream

1 oz. dark chocolate, for the chocolate cream

METHOD

Cream Puffs

  1. Bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to a roiling boil.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium and mix in all of the flour, stirring with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together.
  3. Continue to stir for 2-3 minutes. The dough will be soft and smooth.
  4. Pour the dough into a bowl and beat in the eggs one at a time.
  5. Form the dough into the desired shapes on parchment paper lined baking sheets.
  6. Bake in a pre-heated 375 F (190 C) oven and bake for 7-10 minutes. (It’s very important that the puffs bake long enough, i.e. dry out enough, so they don’t collapse. I learned this the hard way on my first try.)
  7. Stick the handle of a wooden spoon into the oven door to hold it ajar and bake for another 5 minutes (I baked for 10).
  8. Rotate the baking sheet from front to back and, again with the door ajar, bake for another 8 minutes or until the eclairs are puffed and golden brown. (Again, baked for 10, rather than 8.)
  9. Let the puffs cool for a few hours.

Pastry Cream (Pastelera de Lucuma)

  1. Bring the milk and vanilla extract to a boil in a saucepan.
  2. Mix the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch in another sauce pan.
  3. Temper the egg yolks with a few tbsp of the milk and then add the remaining milk.
  4. Bring the mixture to a boil while whisking and continue to whisk for a minute.
  5. Transfer the cream to a bowl and set the bowl in an ice water bath to cool while still stirring.
  6. Once the mixture has cooled off a bit, stir in the butter.
  7. Return the bowl to the ice water bath and continue to stir until completely cooled.
  8. For the 3 kinds of cream, split the pastry cream between three small bowls.
  9. In a small ramequin, melt the chocolate (I did this in the microwave) and allow to cool slightly. Stir into the first bowl of pastry cream until combined.
  10. Into the second bowl of pastry cream, add in the pureed lucuma and stir until combined.

Assembly

  1. Put a small-sized pastry tip into your pastry bag. Then fill the bag with the plain pastry cream.
  2. use the pastry tip to poke a hole into each cream puff and squeeze to fill.
  3. Repeat the process with the chocolate and lucuma creams.
  4. Serve immediately.


Birthday Macarons

I am not a natural baker, which is funny because the name of my blog kind of indicates the opposite! Unlike cooking, baking requires concentration and most importantly, discipline. Though I am learning to curb my naughty baking ways, I still find it hard to follow the rules sometimes. I am impatient, I skip steps, I open the oven door during baking, and I (gasp!) guesstimate.

This time, I tried really hard to do exactly as told. I suppose knowing that I would be presenting what I made as a gift helped 😛

My friend Uchi (Ursula 🙂 ) celebrated her birthday this weekend. When I was contemplating what gift to get her, I decided it would be really fun to make little French macarons: they’re sweet and petite, just like Uchi!

As this was my first time, I decided to invest in a few essentials that every baker should have (especially someone claiming to be The Little Baker SF). I bought a Silpat, a pastry bag and a piping tip. So the Silpat cost $20 at Sur La Table, which I wasn’t so excited about, but I figure I’m saving in the long-run since I’ll never have to buy parchment paper again.

The recipe I ended up putting together was inspired by three sources: Tartelette for the macaron ingredients and measurements, Food for Torte for the method, and Life’s A Feast for the buttercream. I decided to do two flavors: classic with a fresh strawberry buttercream filling (I had a few berries left over from my CSA) and coconut with dulce de leche (Wanted to use up the rest of my manjar blanco from Peru).

I was all set to follow the rules. I tried—really, I did. I did my research, read through the recipe to make sure I understood all the steps, figured out all the measurements, and still, things didn’t go exactly as planned. (Sigh…maybe one day they will 😛 ) My first batch was so frustrating. I had no idea what I was doing and ended up underbaking them and having to put them BACK in the oven for another 10 minutes. They turned alright, but were not as fine as I had imagined they would be.

The second (coconut) batch, on the other hand, came out lovely. Such dainty, elegant little things, I was shocked that one batch could be so ugly and the next so gorgeous. I suppose being a little less clueless that time made a difference.

I’ve noted in the recipe below all the things I found helpful in the process. I think, however, that you just have to be brave and do it. It’ll come together in the end!

I’m in love with them. They are the cutest things I have ever made, not to mention a mini triumph for this Little Baker. Makes me feel like I’m finally finding my baker’s feet, or more appropriately, hands. 🙂 The strawberry buttercream is pure love: the softest pink in color, tenderly tart and sweet, and so smooth. That sandwiched between almond macarons is the perfect combination of crunchy bite and soft, chewy meringue. As for the coconut macarons with dulce de leche filling, they’re sticky, gooey caramel treats. Both versions tasted good, but if I had to choose, I’d say the strawberry cream filled ones were the standout.

Enjoy!

Dual Flavor Macarons: Classic with Strawberry Buttercream Filling and Coconut with Dulce de Leche Filling (adapted from Tartelette and Food for Torte)

90 g egg whites (between 2 and 3 eggs)

30 g sugar

200 g confectioners’ sugar

110 g ground almonds (For the classic batch, I used 55 g almonds; for the coconut, I used 45 g, plus 10 g shredded and sweetened coconut)

Fresh Strawberry Buttercream Filling (recipe adapted from Life’s A Feast)

175 g confectioners’ sugar

50 g unsalted butter, at room temp.

2-3 fresh strawberries, roughly chopped (or squished with the back of a fork, which is what I did)

1-2 tbsp boiling water

METHOD

  1. Using a food processor, process the confectioners’ sugar and ground almonds until combined and well ground.  (At this point, I split the mixture into two, measuring out 145 g and adding 10 g shredded coconut for the coconut batch and leaving the remaining 155 g for the classic.)
  2. Separate the eggs. Then, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they begin to rise and hold their shape (soft peaks).  Add the white sugar 1-2 tbsp at a time and beat in well.  Be careful not to overbeat your eggs. (If doing 2 different flavored batches, whip 2 batches, 45 g egg whites and 15 g sugar, or whip the whole amount and split by eye.)
  3. Fold—don’t stir—the dry ingredients, in two batches, into the beaten egg whites with a rubber spatula.  It will seem very dry at first, but will eventually come together; just keep folding under. (If you are adding food colouring, do so now and combine well.  I didn’t do this.)
  4. When the mixture is smooth and there are no streaks of egg whites, scrape the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a small circular piping tip (I used a #4, 3/8-inch tip). Pipe small rounds of mixture onto a baking tray covered with baking paper.  Leave enough room in between each round—they will spread! Note: If a piece of almond blocks the filling from coming out, don’t squeeze harder. Use a toothpick or tip of a needle to dislodge it; this way is more effective and will also save you a lot of tears should you squeeze and the pastry bag were to burst. (I did the piping and baking in two batches: classic then coconut.)
  5. Leave them out so their surface begins to harden up.  This will help the macarons form their shiny shell and ‘foot’.  Rest them for as long as it takes to heat up the oven to 355 F (180 C).
  6. Place the macarons on the middle rack of your oven. Bake for 10-15 minutes (I needed the entire 15).  Remove them from the oven then let them cool completely before peeling them gently off the baking paper or your Silpat. (I had stickage issues and ended up sliding a piece of thread underneath cookie to unstick them. This worked really well.)
  7. While the macarons are baking, prepare the strawberry buttercream: Using an electric mixer, cream together the softened butter and confectioners’ sugar. Scrape down the sides.
  8. Add the chopped (or squished) strawberries to the mixture and the boiling water. Beat until smooth and fluffy. Set aside until ready for spreading. (Don’t refrigerate; it will harden and become hard to spread.)
  9. Spoon or pipe (I spooned; it was easier) a generous tsp of buttercream onto one half of a macaron, then sandwich together with the other half. together.

Feelin’ Fine French Pear Tart

I can’t explain why, but lately I just feel like celebrating—celebrating Spring, family, and my peaceful life. And I have chosen to show my gratitude the best way I know how: by baking.

I couldn’t wait to get home yesterday and make this French pear tart. It’s another Dorie masterpiece: elegant pear fans baked into a rich almond cream sitting atop a light, buttery crust. (Oh my goodness, I’m almost drooling over my own words.)

This may look complicated to make, but really it isn’t. I was pleasantly surprised at how uncomplicated it actually was to put everything together. The only adjustment I made to the recipe was to use a sweet pastry dough recipe from my Swiss TipTopf cookbook. The thing I love most about this dough is that I can do it by hand. Maybe it’s just me, but I love the feeling of cold butter and flour rubbing between my fingertips. For once, it’s actually a good thing to have cold hands (besides the whole “cold hands, warm heart” thing :P)—the butter doesn’t melt when I mix it into the flour.

Apart from the dough, I followed everything Dorie said to do. You know, it really does pay off to the follow directions and to measure exactly (and I was exact down to the gram). I don’t know why my pears are so brown. I’m not too upset about it because the taste more than made up for the slightly odd appearance. The golden crust is flaky and crisp, the pears are tender (but not mushy) and the almond cream—infused with sweet pear juice—is so incredibly smoooooth.

So will I be making this again? Oh, yes! What a way to celebrate all the good things in life!

Enjoy!

French Pear Tart (adapted from TipTopf and Dorie Greenspan’s recipe from Baking From My Home to Yours)

Makes one 26 cm springform tart

Sweet Tart Pastry (Muerbeteig)

200 g all purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

100 g very cold unsalted butter, diced

2-3 tsp evaporated cane sugar

zest of 1/2 an organic lemon, grated

1 egg, at room temp. , whisked

2 tbsp cold water

Almond Cream

3 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temp.

150 g evaporated cane sugar

150 g ground almonds

1 large egg

1 tsp flour

1 tsp cornstarch

1 tsp vanilla extract

Tart

3 pears

METHOD

Sweet Tart Pastry

  1. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Add the butter and with your fingertips, gently rub flour and butter together until evenly combined.
  2. Mix in the sugar and grated lemon zest.
  3. Make a well in the dry mixture. Pour the egg and water into the well and with a fork, very quickly whisk the flour into the egg (working from the outside in). Once the dough starts forming, use your hands to gently pat it into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. (Or you can press the dough into the springform first—I put a plastic sandwich bag on my hand to do this, in order to avoid sticking and overhandling—and then chill.)
  4. While the dough is chilling, pre-heat the oven to 428 F (220 C).
  5. Fit a piece of tin foil tightly against the dough. Bake for 15-20 minutes on the center rack. Once finished baking, carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed up, use the back of a spoon to gently push it back down.

Almond Cream

  1. Put the butter and sugar in the workbowl of a food processor and process until the mixture is smooth and satiny. Add the ground almonds and continue to process until well blended.
  2. Add the flour and cornstarch, process, and then add the egg.  Process for about 15 seconds more, or until the almond cream is homogeneous. Add the rum or vanilla and process just to blend.

If you prefer, you can make the cream in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a bowl with a rubber spatula.  In either case, the ingredients are added in the same order.  Scrape the almond cream into a container and either use it immediately or refrigerate it until firm, about 2 hours.

Assembly

  1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Have a lined baking sheet at the ready.
  2. If you are using fresh (unpoached) pears, peel them now.  If you are using poached or unpoached pears, cut them in half from blossom to stem and core them; rub the unpoached pears with lemon juice.  Whatever pears you have, make sure to pat them dry – really dry – so that their liquid won’t keep the almond cream from baking.
  3. Fill the baked crust with the almond cream, spreading it even with an offset metal icing spatula.
  4. Thinly slice each pear half crosswise, lift each half on a spatula, press down on the pear to fan it slightly and place it, wide-end toward the edge of the crust, over the almond cream.  The halves will form spokes.
  5. Put the crust on the lined baking sheet, slide the sheet into the oven and bake the tart 50 to 60 minutes, or until the almond cream puffs up around the pears and browns.  Transfer the tart to a rack to cool to just warm or to room temperature before unmolding.
  6. Right before serving, dust the tart with confectioners’ sugar.  If you prefer, prepare a glaze by bringing about 1/4 cup apple jelly and1/2 teaspoon water to the boil.  Brush the glaze over the surface of the tart.

Ratatouille Stuffed Crepes Gratin

Some people are natural-born hosts. I am not one of these people. I stress about who to invite, whether they’re going have things to talk about or even LIKE each other, what to make, what drinks to serve, and, and and…

This Saturday’s potluck dinner was no different: I was late, people couldn’t find parking, my cheesecake didn’t gel properly. And, to make things worse: roommate drama. Major. (FYI: It has since been resolved. :D) Everything came together in the end, though. Awesome food and wine and scintillating conversation with my favoritest people in the city.

The baking and cooking part during the day was good too—actually, it was great. 3 straight hours of uninterrupted slicing, frying, stirring and baking. I finally got to use the frozen lucuma I brought back from Lima for a lucuma cheesecake (will post recipe soon). I also got to make this lovely vegetarian gratin (inspired by this recipe found on In Praise of Sardines)—I’ve been baking so much lately that I forgot how good it feels to be able to cook by feeling and not have to measure anything.

The original recipe is vegan, including the socca crepes which use chickpea flour instead of all purpose. My version isn’t vegan and is also a gratin. Visualize braised-all-day veggies wrapped in light-as-air crepes, smothered in creamy bechamel, and baked until golden on top and a melting pot of flavors in the middle. Love it.

Enjoy.

Ratatouille Stuffed Crepes Gratin (adapted from In Praise of Sardines and Epicurious.com)

Makes one 9×13 gratin dish, ca. 10 servings

INGREDIENTS

Ratatouille Filling:

1 lb any combination of red, yellow and/or orange bell peppers

1 lb zucchini

1 lb eggplant (I used the entire eggplant, ca. 1.2 lbs)

1/2 lb red onions

6 cloves garlic

4-6 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp dried basil (would have used herbes de provence if I had had it)

1 tsp dried rosemary

salt and pepper, to taste

Crepes:

1 cup all purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

1 1/2 cups milk (I used non-fat)

1 large egg

2 egg yolks

1 tsp olive oil

Bechamel:

1 tbsp unsalted butter

1/4 cup all purpose flour

2 cups milk (non-fat is fine)

salt and pepper, to taste

pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

Assembly:

handful grated parmesan

1 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

METHOD

Ratatouille

  1. Bring a medium sized pot of water to a boil.
  2. Roast the peppers over a barbecue grill, the gas flame on your stove, or under your broiler until black and blistered all over. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a plate to allow to continue cooking in their own steam. When cool, peel off skin (use a paper towel if needed). Seed and cut into one-inch pieces, preferably triangles.
  3. Cut the zucchini and eggplant into one-inch pieces. Place eggplant pieces in a colander over a sink or bowl and sprinkle lavishly with salt. Allow to sit for at least half an hour.
  4. Cut out a cone-shaped piece from the tops of the tomatoes and mark the bottoms with an X. In the boiling water, blanch the tomatoes for 20-30 seconds. Allow to cool briefly, then peel off and discard the skin. Cut tomatoes into one-inch pieces.
  5. Dice the onions into 1/2-inch pieces and slice the garlic as thinly as possible. In a large, shallow pan over medium-low heat, sweat the onions in 2-3 tablespoons of the oil, covered, for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. After a few minutes, season the onions with salt. If the onions start to color, reduce the heat to low. Add garlic, cover, and cook 15 more minutes until meltingly tender. Remove the lid and add the herbs, the tomatoes and the cut peppers. Turn the heat up to medium and cook for about 10 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, in another pan (preferably non-stick) large enough to hold all the zucchini in one layer, sauté the zucchini in 1-2 tablespoon oil over high heat. Your goal is to caramelize the zucchini all over, without letting it burn or cook all the way through. It should take about 5 minutes. Remove from pan, season with salt, and set aside when done.
  7. When the tomatoes and peppers have cooked for about 10 minutes, add the zucchini. Cook for about 5 minutes until almost tender then add the eggplant and cook 5 more minutes until all the vegetables are tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.Using several paper towels, gently squeeze the eggplant dry. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and sauté the eggplant as you did the zucchini, for about 5 minutes until caramelized.
  8. When the tomatoes and peppers have cooked for about 10 minutes, add the zucchini. Cook for about 5 minutes until almost tender then add the eggplant and cook 5 more minutes until all the vegetables are tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Turn off the heat, cover and let sit for a few hours, in order for the flavors to “marry”.

Crepes

  1. Sift together flour, salt, nutmeg, and pepper to taste into a bowl. Whisk together milk, whole egg, and yolk in a small bowl, then gradually whisk into flour mixture.
  2. Heat a dry 7- to 8-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot. Spoon about 2 tablespoons batter into skillet, tilting to coat bottom. (If batter sets before skillet is coated, reduce heat slightly for next crepe.) Cook until underside is lightly browned, 6 to 10 seconds, then loosen crepe with a spatula and flip. Cook until just cooked through, about 20 seconds, and transfer to a plate. Make 10-12 more crepes in the same manner.

Bechamel Sauce

  1. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add the butter and let it melt. Whisk in the flour, stirring constantly to avoid burning. Allow the mixture to cook for about 1 minute.
  2. Whisk in 1/2 cup of the milk, again stirring constantly to fully incorporate ingredients and also to avoid scalding.
  3. Once the mixture is smooth and already starting to thicken, add in the remaining 1 1/2 cups milk as well as the salt, pepper and grated nutmeg. Reduce the heat to low and whisk until thick. Remove from heat. (The sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.)

Assembly

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 F (oven rack in the center). In a 9×13-inch gratin dish, ladle in half of the bechamel sauce, making sure to coat the bottom completely.
  2. Spread 1/4 cup ratatouille filling across the center of 1 crepe and roll into a cylinder. Fold in the ends and transfer, seam side down, to the baking dish. Assemble the remaining crepes in the same manner, fitting them snugly. (You’ll probably have leftover crepes and filling.)
  3. Pour the remaining bechamel on top of the crepes, spreading evenly. Sprinkle grated parmesan over. Distribute the butter pieces evenly on top. Cover with a foil tent.
  4. Bake for 1 hour. Remove the foil. Broil on high for 5-10 minutes, or until golden on top.
  5. Remove from the oven and let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Family-Night Tilapia Salad Nicoise

Miss Busy-Pants Lauren left for Tanzania last Friday. (I wish my firm would send ME somewhere—not likely.) Though the house is sooo empty and lonely without her, it makes me happy to know she is there, working her little heart out for the good of others. (Awww—let’s all hold hands <3)

Anyway, it’s been a while since we all sat down together as a family. (Mostly because L. and M. are STILL madly in love with their boyfriends and are super busy being obsessed and in love—Lucky.) So a sit-down meal was long overdue.

Lauren and Melita put me in charge of deciding the menu this time. Naturally, the first thing I did was go to Tastespotting for some inspiration. Once there, I stumbled upon a gorgeous photo and recipe for a salmon salad nicoise from Molly at Organic Spark. Though I didn’t end up following the recipe at all, it was the idea of a tangy apricot dressing drizzled over mixed greens, grape tomatoes, shaved red onions and ghee-baked salmon that totally won me over.

Using Molly’s inspiring photo, I came up with a recipe for a pan-fried tilapia salad nicoise. (My original plan was to use salmon, but we’re all independent women on a budget right now.) The tilapia I prepared the way my mom typically does it—coating the fish with a flour-salt-pepper-lemon-pepper mixture and then pan-frying it in olive oil, lemon and a small bit of butter at the end; I prepped the vegetables; and L. and M. did the arranging. For the final ta-da factor,  I crumbled a little Gorgonzola on top.

To accompany our healthy salad, we served a Shiraz (Trader Joe’s $2-buck-Chuck variety, actually), cheese (aged Gouda and Gorgonzola) and gluten-free crackers. (What a trippy, stereotypical California “I-eat-only-organic-and-don’t-eat-meat” chick dinner this is.)

Cute family, yummy food.  Makes me sooo happy! (^_^)

P1070192

Tilapia Salad Nicoise (inspired by a photo and recipe found on Organic Spark)

Serves 4.

INGREDIENTS

Tilapia

3 largish Tilapia fillets, defrosted (We used the frozen 3-in-a-pack from Trader Joe’s.)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp lemon-pepper

olive oil, for frying

a little butter

Salad

4 hard-boiled eggs, halved

the leaves of 2 romaine hearts, prepped and torn

3 roma tomatoes, cut into wedges

1/2 red onion, sliced thinly

1 large handful haricot vert, blanched and then plunged into a bowl of ice water (I used regular green beans, which I halved.)

kalamata olives

capers

optional toppings: Gorgonzola or goat’s cheese, little red potatoes, marinated red peppers, etc.

Dressing

1/2 clove fresh garlic, minced then mashed with the side of your knife

1 tbsp fresh white onion, minced then mashed with the side of your knife

1/3-1/2 cup white wine vinegar

scant 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

the juice of 1/2 a lemon

coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Prepare the dressing: In a small bowl, combine and whisk together all ingredients. Set aside to marinate.
  2. Prep the vegetables for the salad. Lay the lettuce first, then arrange the remaining items on top in their own section. Leave space for the fish. 1 tbsp capers and 3-4 olives should suffice for each person.
  3. Prepare the fish: On a plate, mix together flour, salt, pepper and lemon-pepper. Set aside.
  4. Pre-heat a non-stick skillet to medium-high heat. While the pan is heating, pat the fish fillets dry with paper towels.
  5. Once the pan is hot, coat the bottom with a thin layer of olive oil (about 2 tbsp). Quickly dredge both sides of the fish fillets into the flour mixture and place into the hot pan. Allow to brown on each side for about 2 minutes. (Be careful not to overcook.)
  6. Once cooked just through, reduce the heat to low. Put a very small dollop (maybe 1/4 tsp) of butter into the pan and then squeeze in the juice of half a lemon. Allow the liquid to cook and reduce for about 30 seconds.
  7. Place a fish fillet on each salad plate (I preferred to flake it first). Top with a little crumbled Gorgonzola and then drizzle the dressing over each.