Category Archives: Baking
I have mixed feelings about French desserts. Tarts I adore, but I’m indifferent to many of the pastries. Maybe it’s because I’m not a big fan of pastry cream and whipped cream. There are plenty of French sweets I’d never met before. Over the past couple of years, making more French recipes, I’ve started to have a new appreciation for little French cakes.
The past two challenges for Cook the Book Fridays have been for little cakes. Both are rich from butter, but in counterpoint, are not too sweet.
The first one, financiers, are little almond cakes with browned butter. They taste nutty from almond flour and the browned butter. The French have a special mold for baking these, but I used mini-muffin pans. These baby cakes are simple to mix up and are a good way to use up extra egg whites. And they taste good too!
The other little cakes I made were madeleines. The batter is also simple to make, but these require a special pan. I had more trouble with these. In the past, I’ve chilled the batter, but this time, the recipe just said to let it rest (at room temperature, I assumed). The molds are supposed to be filled just three-quarters. The imprints are so shallow, it’s hard to judge. I used my smallest cookie scoop, but it was a bit too much. The cakes rose and touched their neighbors. Not the way it’s supposed to work. There was some extra batter, so I chilled it overnight, and tried again.
Round 2, I was more careful about filling the molds, erring on the side of underfilled. That worked much better, though my pan-buttering technique had some shortcomings. The cakes stayed inside the expected boundaries, but most of them stuck to the pan. When they finally came out, they were NOT pretty. I had brushed the mold with melted butter, but I think I should have smeared it around with a paper towel for better coverage.
Even though their appearance was lacking, these baby cakes tasted lovely. I liked the subtle flavor of honey – just a touch, not cloying at all.
I’d be confident in whipping up some financiers any time, but the madeleines will need more practice.
If you want to try yourself, you’ll find the recipe for financiers on page 268 of David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen and the recipe for madeleines on page 274. My friends’ reviews for financiers can be found here and for madeleines here.
Boston people: I have something you must check out this month. Last week I went with some friends to check out some of Fujiko Nakaya’s fog sculptures on the Emerald Necklace. At 5 different locations, special misting nozzles create fog that rolls through the landscape. It’s hard to describe, but it’s quite magical. Fog x FLO is a special exhibit in honor of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy’s 20th anniversary. It runs through the end of October. Find all the details here.
What a hot week! Temperatures were high in the nineties and the muggidity was stifling for a big part of the week. On the hottest day, a team of lawn guys, wearing black hooded sweatshirts, were working hard grading our backyard for a much-needed new lawn. Ugh!
I chose to live in New England to escape the “Hazy, Hot, and Humid” summers of my childhood in Maryland. Due to climate change, these many years later, more frequent, longer stretches of the Maryland summers have caught up with me in Boston. The difference, I don’t live in a house with central A/C now.
Frozen desserts like ice cream and popsicles are an antidote to the hot weather. It was fortuitous that the recipe chosen for Cook the Book Fridays, an Extra Edition on this fifth Friday in August, was ice cream!
The actual recipe was for Apricot Kernel Ice Cream. I didn’t have any apricot kernels to use. Instead, I remembered that Italian amaretti cookies, the ones that come in the red tin with pairs delightfully wrapped in paper, are made NOT with almonds but with apricot kernels. Without apricot kernels, I went the opposite way and simply made Almond Ice Cream by adding almond extract instead. I realize the flavor isn’t the same. The almond flavor was smooth where it would have had a bitter note with the kernels. However, I was in the mood for ice cream and didn’t have readily available apricots.
Without needing to steep the kernels makes the recipe simper. I added the sugar to the milk and cream which I warmed to dissolve the sugar. I immediately proceeded with the recipe by whisking the warm milk into egg yolks and heating to for a custard. I might have overcooked it slightly as it seemed to curdle at the end but pressing it through the strainer smoothed it out. I added a teaspoon of almond extract to the final mixture of custard and cream.
After chilling the custard for most of the day, twenty minutes in the ice cream maker froze the custard for a smooth ice cream. I let it sit in the freezer for a few hours to firm up further.
Almond ice cream was a refreshing topper for the last slice of the peach tart I made this week.
Note that when I was searching for a picture of the amaretti tin, I found this article in the New York Times archives that indicates I could have substituted peach, nectarine, or plum kernels for the apricot. That never occurred to me. Apparently, the inner kernel of all these stone fruits share the bitter almond flavor of the apricot. I wish I’d known that. I could have tried out the real thing. Next time.
If you want to make a delicious peach tart before summer ends, here’s my latest favorite dessert concoction.
One batch of your favorite Sweet Tart (shortbread style) Crust. My favorite is Dorie Greenspan’s recipe (I added ½ tsp almond extract with the egg yolk for an extra boost of flavor)
½ cup turbinado or demerara sugar
2 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp almond flour
¼ tsp salt
2 Tbsp butter
½ cup peach jam
3-4 peaches, pitted and sliced (I don’t peel them)
First, prepare the sweet tart dough. Press into a 9- or 9½-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Freeze for at least 30 minutes. Line with foil and bake at 375F for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 3-5 minutes until lightly golden. Let cool.
Preheat the oven to 400F.
To make the topping: Whisk together sugar, flour, almond flour and salt. Use your hands to work butter into the dry ingredients until it’s crumbly.
Spread the peach jam on the bottom of the crust. Top with peach slices, arranged in concentric circles. Sprinkle with the topping.
Bake for 45 minutes until fruit is bubbly.