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A La Tart

This is how I roll....
April 23, 2012
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Food Blogger Bake Sale on Saturday

 

 

Come check out the Food Blogger Bake Sale this Saturday.  100% of the proceeds go to Share Our Strength's effort to end childhood hunger.  Mark your calendars and come out to Omnivore Books where you can taste my yummy baked goods and my roommate Laura's (from SheEatsWell) delectable desserts along with many other talented food blogger creations.

Surprise! My dessert will be of the fruity nature and of course Laura's will be chocolaty  :)

 

March 27, 2012
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Frozen Mousse Cakes

[Black Currant Frozen Mousse Cake]

I really think frozen mousse cakes should make a comeback (well in France), in the US maybe they should make their formal debut.  Why you ask?  Because they look amazing, you can get really creative with design, and mousse can be as yummy (or boring) as you make it.  Think cheesecake, tiramisu, banana cream pie mousse - sounds delish.  Well in class I stuck with the more formal (and French) styles, making a black currant mousse cake.

With the bright colors I chose, it kinda took shape as a Mardi Gras individual cake, but hey a French cake at Mardi Gras makes sense right?  You are probably wondering how you construct such a crazy looking cake.  As with most really interesting pastries, it takes a lot of time :)

I made two cakes, one almond sponge cake with a stencil and multiple colored butter batters.  Then a second sponge cake to construct the bottom of the cake.  Then I added the mousse, refrigerated overnight and topped with a blackberry glacage. Oh and for decoration, a fun modern caramel swizzle on top.

So when I open up a bakery, and initiate the comeback, how much do you think I can charge for these puppies?

February 24, 2012
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Layers of butter

Butter, and the technique of incorporating it, is what makes croissant dough so good! Croissant dough is a laminated dough, named so because the butter is laminated between sheets of dough. Other laminated doughs include Puff Pastry and Danish dough. If you're thinking how do you laminate butter, well you make a sheet of butter, starting by beating very cold butter to a plastic consistency with a tad bit of flour and then you have a maliable cold butter that you could sculpt with, if you so desired. After chilling you roll out the butter into a rectangular block. Through a sequence of folding a very cold rectangular dough around a cold rectangular butter block you create hundreds of layers of butter and dough = croissant dough. Making the dough alone takes about 3-4 hours since you have to chill the dough in between every intricate fold.  Shaping the dough, chilling, and allowing to rise is a whole other day!

So the next time you eat a croissant or pain au chocolate, think, WOW! this is an amazing piece of work and yummmmmmmmm butter!

February 08, 2012
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Who doesn't love cake?

[my cake]

Cake decorating is an art and many pastry chefs perfect different techniques and make their own trademark look. Classically buttercream is the standard for a french cake, however, fondant has become popular for a contemporary and modern look for cake these days - specifically wedding cakes. Like many people I know, I thought fondant was a horribly made sheet of icing that tastes like pure sugar.  I always tend to avoid this type of cake or peel off the fondant and eat the buttercream and cake underneath.  Well, I now know that there are companies that make really great fondants so your wedding cake doesn't have to taste like plastic confectioners sugar ;)

Decorating cakes is a whole different ball game in baking.  You can make an amazing tasting cake, but if your eyes don't devour it first, who's going to eat it?  The day we first explored fancy cake decorating techniques (beyong basic piping), we had professional wedding cake designer, Ruth Drennan come in and teach us fondant techniques and sugar flowers.  She specializes in wedding cakes that highlight GORGEOUS sugar flowers.  Each flower takes a lot of attention to detail, time and care.  Many of these flowers take days or weeks to make.  In class this day we only had a short amount of time so we didn't bust out and crazy layered flowers such as roses or peonies.  But don't worry, you'll get your fill once we conquer weddnig cakes in a couple weeks ;)

January 24, 2012
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Pretty pretty princess

 

A Swedish baker developed this cake in the 1930's for three Princesses - how fitting.  They are now used to commonly celebrate birthdays in Sweden.  The classic construction consists of sponge cake, pastry cream and whipped cream topped with green marzipan and a rose.  However, in America we do whatever we want, therefore these cakes can be found in a multitude of colors and filled with fruit jam, buttercream and flavored simple syrup (possibly infused with booze).

For those new to marzipan it's an almond based confection commonly used in European desserts.  When rolled out into a sheet it becomes the icing on the cake.

January 12, 2012
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Let them eat brioche!

[pain au chocolat]

Marie Antoinette actually said "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche", which translates to "Let them eat brioche".  Upon learning that the peasants had no bread, since brioche was an enriched bread (fancy & expensive) the quote supposedly reflects the princess's obliviousness to the condition of the people.  Since brioche wasn't really ubiquitous world wide the quote was changed to cake :)

So last Saturday we dived into brioche, the yummiest enriched bread in my opinion!  Brioche is so delicious and rich, and a tad difficult to make because it's full of butter.  When kneading the dough you have to slowly incorporate butter, one tablespoon at a time.  As you can imagine this gets quite sticky and slippery.  After making the dough it needs to chill so the butter can setup around the proteins for baking,  chilling also helps in cutting and shaping the bread before the final rise.

We made brioche in many a shapes, with one of the most common being brioche a tete, which is shaped to look like a monk with a little head on top.  Some other rich and delicious breads were the pain au chocolate, basically two sticks of chocolate wrapped up in brioche and brioche en couronne, a crown of brioche filled with dried or candied fruit. I made mine with dried cinnamon apples and cranberries - it was amazing (I ate it, that's why it's not pictured).

Oh and Chuck Williams (founder of Williams-Sonoma) stopped by for an afternoon snack of brioche, he is 96 and loving his fair share of pain au chocolate! More pics below.

 

 

January 03, 2012
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Santa did well this year

[the beast of a mixer]

This Christmas was full of wonderful family time, amazing food and a fabulous new toy!  Once I got back from Chicago I figured it was time to break it in.  Naturally, creaming butter and sugar to make cookies was first on the list.  Over the holidays my grandma made these great glazed apricot almond cookies that won an award in the Chicago Tribune holiday cookie contest, so I thought I would give them a whirl in the new mixer. They turned out great and were a hit at the new year's eve party, I think this recipe will need to become a regular. Thanks to Trader Joes I can get amazing dried apricots all year long (blenheim apricots are the best for baking).

[decorating the cookies]

On the way back from Chicago my slight layover in Las Vegas turned into an extended layover due to fog in SF (go figure).  So I had more than enough time to read my food magazines cover to cover and came across these almond oat lace cookies in Bon Appetit. So I tried these out for our NYE party as well. They were good, but it's probably not surprising that the apricot almond delights were my fave.

[presentation at the party]

December 22, 2011
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Holiday Party

Last Saturday we had a holiday party at school to celebrate mid-term.  Needless to say it was sugar galore!  We baked petit fours for three days to prepare.  I worked on red currant French macarons, linzer cookies (with the jam in the middle), lemon meringue tartlets, and ruby red grapefruit pate de fuit (jelly-like fruit squares).

The party was great and all the mini pastries were impressive, however a lot of work!  Making any dessert mini or individual is always more work, more time and more detail (hence why they are more expensive in bakeries).  Overall, I think everyone enjoyed and appreciated all the hard work and delicious flavors.

December 12, 2011
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It's the holiday season.....

And that means fun, boozy and fruity holiday breads!  Most of these super-enriched breads have a large dose of amazing dried and candied fruit and a serving of rum or brandy.  I made the panettone (first pic), which was filled with candied orange peel that we made in class weeks prior, golden raisins and currants.  It turned out extremely moist and flavorful and made me sad that a lot of people only experience panettone from the box.  Making panettone brought me back to the days when I worked at Cost Plus World Market and the holidays were all about the panettone and stollen (because they were our holiday bread and butter - pun intended).  We made stollen in class this day as well, however, I'm still not a fan.

The challah was fabulous and the only bread that we didn't church up with fruit and booze, and that's because it's AMAZING all on it's own.  Braiding the bread was pretty awesome as well. If only I was able to take home this gorgeous and delicious bread to make some french toast.

Lesson learned: bread is a LONG process, it takes patience, lot's of kneeding and attention.  But when it's all done your kitchen smells great. Plus everyone loves warm bread out of the oven.

December 12, 2011
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Thanksgiving at the McNamaras

I know i'm a little late on this post, but who doesn't love turkey all year long.

So this Thanksgiving was one full of new recipes and Arizona wine.  My parents tried their second Food & Wine Magazine turkey and my mom had to get a little inventive. The recipe called for a cheese cloth and since we didn't have one on hand, madre used a thin towel to soak in butter and coat the turkey.  It wasn't too surprising when the towel got a little toasty and we had to giveup on that idea.  I'm still sticking with my favorite, the apricot glazed turkey from F&W Mag 2008.

Beyond turkey we tried this poblano chile cornbread stuffing that was right up my dad's alley because it was full of peppers! This was quite delicious, a lot of work, but yummy.  I think I could eat this any day of the year.

And I had to bake something for dinner (besides dessert), so I tried these cheddar popovers that were perfect a accompaniment to a Thanksgiving meal!  And for dessert ... apple and pumpkin pie!

Oh and who could forget the wine.  After spending all day Wednesday up in Sedona tasting wine, we had to feature some awesome Arizona vino (Keeling Schaefer) on the Thanksgiving table as well.

 

 

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