Sunday, March 30, 2014

Courtesan au Chocolate

I'm sure by now you've heard about Wes Anderson's new film The Grand Budapest Hotel. I've been watching trailers for months and I'm finally going to see it tomorrow, but in the mean time I thought I would bring a bit of grandeur to my life in the form of a Courtesan au Chocolate, the curvy pastry featured in the movie, a somewhat loose, and I use that term loosely, version of the French 'religieuse'. 

I was helped along by this marvelous tutorial from Wes and the actual baker for the movie, Anemone Muller-Grossmann.  Yes, they took two days to make but in the words of my dear husband "...they're worth it!" Now all I have to do is look like Saoise Ronan while I'm baking and my life will be complete. 

courtesan au chocolate (adapted from Anemone Muller-Grossmann)

chocolate pastry cream

1 &1/2 cups milk
2 ounces good quality dark chocolate broken into pieces
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon good quality cocoa
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat the milk in a medium, heavy bottomed pot, stir in chocolate and bring mixture to just before a boil.  In a medium bowl whisk together egg yolks, cocoa, flour and cornstarch.  Pour in half of the milk mixture and stir well.  Pour that back into the pot and heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens.  Whisk in butter and vanilla.  Strain into a clean bowl, cover and chill.
pate a choux

1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup unbleached AP flour
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Set aside 3 parchment lined sheet pans and a pastry bag fitted with a 3/4 inch round tip.  Bring the water, salt, sugar and butter to a raising boil in a medium, heavy bottomed pot.  Add the flour and turn off the heat.  Stir in the flour until a stiff dough forms.  Beat in the eggs one at a time making sure they are fully incorporated.

Pipe 10 large, 10 medium and 10 small (on different pans as they will take varying times to bake).  Bake for 15-25 minutes or until puffed up and golden.  After removing from the oven poke a small vent into the bottom of each.

Fill large and medium puffs with chocolate pastry cream.


3 cups confectioners' sugar
1/3 cup of milk more or less
pink, green and pale violet food color

In a large bowl whisk milk into sugar to desired consistency.  Divide into 3 bowls, one for each color.  Dip large puffs into violet color, medium into green and small into pink.

butter cream

1 egg white
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup soft butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
blue food color

Whisk egg white and sugar until smooth.  Add butter a little at a time, scraping the bowl as necessary.  Whisk until smooth.  Add vanilla.  Color half a pale blue.


butter cream
cocoa beans  (or raisinettes)

Using a pastry bag fitted with a small round tip pipe a decorative filigree around each puff with white butter cream.  Stack the medium puffs on top of the large with dollop of blue butter cream, and top with the small puff.  Pipe a small rosette of blue butter cream and top with cocoa bean.  Place each pastry on a small doily and pipe a small shell boarder around the bottom of each.  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Sourdough Irish Soda Bread

I used to really like this recipe for Irish soda bread. Then I made it with sourdough starter for this month's Sourdough Surprise and now I love it!  Not that there was anything wrong with the original recipe, it's been in my recipe box for decades and I made it every year around St. Pat's day.  It's earthy and a bit sweet thanks to oatmeal and brown sugar.  It's great fresh out of the oven with a slab of butter, wonderful toasted and it makes a hearty sandwich. 

But this easy sourdough version is even better.  A more complex flavor, definitely more moist and a longer shelf life.  I don't have to tell you that some soda breads make for good paper weights and door stops after a couple of days!   

sourdough Irish soda bread

2 & 3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
2/3 cups oatmeal (lightly ground in food processor) 
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cold butter, cut up
3/4 cup buttermilk 
1 egg (plus one to brush on top)
1 cup sourdough starter (discard is fine)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In the bowl of a stand mixer whisk together flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder, baking soda, brown sugar; add butter and mix on low until mixture looks crumbly. 

In a medium bowl whisk together buttermilk, egg and sourdough starter; add to flour mixture and mix on low until dough forms.  Turn out dough on a lightly floured surface and knead smooth.  Cut dough in half and form two round loaves.  

Transfer loaves to a parchment lined sheet pan.  Cut a cross into the top of each loaf.  Brush with beaten egg.  Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until loaves are golden.

Sunday, March 16, 2014


You gotta love a Holiday that gets celebrated with a cookie.  And not just any cookie, a 3 sided cookie!  A cookie made to look like the hat of a vanquished villain.  The holiday is Purim, that villain's name was Haman and that cookie is hamentaschen.

While the traditional filling is poppy seed or prune, bakers these days are filling them with everything from chocolate and nutella to savory flavors.  I struck with the more down to earth apricot and raspberry.  Laid out on the counter they somehow remind me of stained glass or modern art.

I researched lots of different recipes for the dough, some with butter and some with oil.  I went with this oil based dough, but I think I might revisit this next year and try one with a mix of butter and oil.  While they aren't the sweetest and most tender cookies in the jar, I do love their egg-y richness, hefty texture and the lovely note of orange rind, besides, any deficit of sugar in the dough is more than made up for in the filling.

It takes a little practice to master the tri-fold, here are some great instructions along with this butter based, recipe

3 eggs
1 cup raw cane sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
rind of one orange
4 cups unbleached AP flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
apricot jam
raspberry jam

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a medium bowl whisk together eggs, oil and sugar; add orange rind.

In the bowl of a stand mixer whisk together flour and baking powder.  Add egg mixture and beat on low until dough forms.  (Not sure if it's because I didn't use white sugar as the original recipe called for but I found I had to coax the dough to form with a few drops of water.)

Cut dough in half, flatten each half and wrap in plastic; chill for half an hour.  Working with one pack of dough at a time roll out on a lightly floured surface to 1/8 inch thick.  Cut out 3 inch rounds (the scraps can be rerolled one time).  Fill each round with one teaspoon of jam.  Fold three sides up over the filling tucking the ends under the next fold  and securing with a dab of water.

Place cookies on parchment lined cookie sheets about 2 inches apart, bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until cookies are lightly golden around the edges.  Makes about 32 to 40 cookies.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Does it seem to you that this winter just won't go away?  It's like there's been a  snow 'event' at least every week since the start of December.  Along with the shoveling, the  salting, the driving on icy roads.  Not to mention the bone chillin cold.  
Ah, shut up!  Put another sweater on and make some soup.  I really can't complain, my hubby does all the shoveling, salting, and driving me to work on icy roads.  And how do I repay him?  With soup, of course.  He especially liked this broccoli cheddar soup and I think you will too.  It's easy to make, tastes a whole lot richer than it is and warms you up from the inside out.  Who's complaining now?

broccoli cheddar soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
1 & 1/2 tablespoons flour
4 cups vegetable stock
3 cups trimmed, chopped fresh broccoli
2 cups whole or 2% milk
6 ounces Port wine cheddar cheese (or grated sharp cheddar cheese, plus some for the top)
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Heat oil and butter on medium-high heat in large, heavy bottomed pot.  Add onions and celery and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.  Stir in flour; whisk in vegetable stock until smooth and cook for 2 or 3 minutes.

Add vegetable stock and broccoli; simmer on low for 10 to 20 minutes or until broccoli is tender.  Whisk in milk and cheese; season to taste.  Can be pureed in a blender or eaten as is.  Top with a bit more cheese, if desired.  Makes 4 servings.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Chocolate Penuche Cake

In my opinion penuche is an under rated element of any good bakers arsenal.  The sweet, fudge-y, chicly tan frosting is the perfect foil to a homey apple cake, a banana muffin or a chocolate layer cake.  And yet you never hear as much about it as you do about say, butter cream, ganache or lemon curd.  Why is that?

I'll tell you why.  It's fudge-y nature tends to coalesce immediately, making it a bit of a bear when it comes to decorating.  In fact, in the interest of full disclosure, it took every last bit of my patience, not to mention my decorating skills, to get this to picture perfectness and the rosettes are a different frosting all together.

Nevertheless, if you bring your finesse and are prepared to improvise, there isn't any reason why you can't make penuche a regular part of your baking line up.  It's flavor is unique, kind of like a poor girl's caramel.  And the texture, so reminiscent of boardwalk fudge, really is outstanding.  I particularity love it paired with this chocolate cake as the dense, darkly sweet penuche plays off so nicely against the moist, cocoa rich layers.  

chocolate penuche cake

1 & 1/4 cup unbleached AP flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white sugar
6 tablespoons brown sugar
6 tablespoons cocoa
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup oil
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour two 6" cake pans.

In the bowl of a stand mixer whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, white sugar, brown sugar and cocoa.  In a medium bowl whisk together milk, oil, egg and vanilla extract.

Add wet ingredients to dry and mix on low to combine, scraping down the bowl and beater as necessary.  Mix on medium-high for one minute.  Divide batter equally between pans.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Cool pans on wire rack until cool enough to handle.  Turn out cakes and cool completely before frosting.  Makes two six inch cakes.  Trim tops and cut each cake in half before filling and stacking.

penuche filling (found here

1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup milk (or as needed)
2 cups confectioners' sugar (or as needed)

Melt butter in heavy bottomed pot. Whisk in brown sugar and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to medium and continue boiling for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add milk and bring back to a boil, stirring constantly.  Take off the heat and cool to lukewarm.  Transfer to a stand mixer.  Gradually stir in sifted confectioners' sugar.  Beat on high until thick.  Add more warm milk or confectioners' sugar as necessary to get it to a workable consistency.  (For rosettes whisk together 1/4 cup soft butter, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon molasses and 1/2-3/4 cup confectioner's sugar.)