Salad Niçoise

This is a salad that I have enjoyed repeatedly during my travels in Provence.  It is the epitome of summer in the south of France when the herbs from the garden or market are abundant.   The potatoes, lettuces and green beans (haricots verts) are tender and the tomatoes are juicy and ripe having been kissed by the Mediterranean sun.

Nicoise Salade

According to some purists, seared tuna is never served on a classic salade Nicoise.  It’s only canned tuna and purchase the best you can afford.  If you are serving  tuna, including anchovies is also a no no according to some.  Though I have seen both on salads in Provence.  Also, from what I have been told the classic version would only be drizzled with Provençal olive oil not combined with vinegar.

When it comes to cooking, I have never been one to follow the rules exactly and since I am not in Provence, I do not have to follow the rules of appellation d’origine contrôlée or (AOC.)  Therefore, if you have some seared tuna in the fridge or have cucumbers, but not red onions or want to add tuna and also anchovies, by all means do so.

Zest of one lemon, preferably organic
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 small shallot, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons minced fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano leaves
1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon leaves
2 – 3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Whisk lemon juice, shallot, thyme, basil, oregano, tarragon, and mustard in medium bowl; season to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle in oil and whisk to emulsify.  Taste with a piece of lettuce to determine balance of acidity.  Set aside.

6 hard boiled eggs, peeled and halved or quartered (set aside until ready to assemble the salad)
12 small new red potatoes (each about 2 inches in diameter, about 1 ¼ pounds total), scrubbed
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces green beans, stem ends trimmed
2 medium heads Boston lettuce or butter lettuce leaves washed, dried, and torn into bite-sized pieces
3 small ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges
1 small red onion, sliced very thin
¼ – 1/2 cup niçoise olives
2 to 3 cans of tuna, best quality available
12 anchovies, preferably salt packed and the best quality available
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped, preferably salt packed

Bring potatoes and 4 quarts cold water to boil in a large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and cook until potatoes are tender, 5 to 8 minutes, depending on their size. When cool enough to handle cut potatoes in half or quarters and transfer them to a medium bowl with a slotted spoon (do not discard boiling water). Toss warm potatoes with ¼ cup vinaigrette; set aside.

Make an ice bath. Return water to boil and add the green beans. Cook until tender but crisp, 3 to 5 minutes or better yet taste one to see if it’s perfectly cooked. Drain beans, transfer to reserved ice water, and let stand until just cool, about 30 seconds; dry beans well. Toss beans in about 3 tablespoons vinaigrette. Salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

Toss lettuce with ¼ cup vinaigrette in large bowl until coated. Arrange bed of lettuce on a serving platter or individual salad plates. Toss tomatoes, red onion, 3 tablespoons vinaigrette, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl.

Arrange the tomato-onion mixture on the salad greens, along with the beans, and reserved potatoes.  Next arrange the hard-boiled eggs, olives, and anchovies.  (Oftentimes the anchovies are draped on top of the eggs.) Drizzle eggs with remaining 2 tablespoons dressing, sprinkle entire salad with capers (if using), and serve immediately.

Posted in General Blog, Ingredients, Main Courses, Recipes, Salads | Leave a comment

Roasted White Chocolate and Sour Cherry Blondie on Rosemary Shortbread

All this craziness started because I read David Lebovitz’s blog about roasting white chocolate. Of course, I had been storing 11 pounds of the premium coverture for too many months and had yet to bake with it. When I saw David’s post, I thought why not roast it all and maybe it would give me inspiration to then use it.  Well, there the container of roasted chocolate sat staring at me until I had a weekend free to experiment.

I made my first batch of blondies or as some would call them “bars” using the chocolate, toasted pistachios and semi-sweet chocolate chips folded into the batter.  The pistachios were lost and the chips were too sweet for my taste.  Mind you, no one complained but I felt there was something missing, some je ne sais quoi.

White chocolate and macadamia nuts are also a classic pairing.  Rosemary in shortbread is delicious. And, it was just sour cherry season and I had dried a few. Why not put them all together with the rosemary adding a savory component and the bittersweet chocolate and sour cherries countering the sweetness of the white chocolate. I haven’t yet tried it but I bet you could leave out the shortbread and they would still be delicious.

Rosemary Shortbread Dough
8 tablespoons (4 oz, 112 g) unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup (2 ounces, 55 g) granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon (1/4 ounce, 5 g) finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (5 ¾ ounces, 160g) unbleached all-purpose flour

The dough needs time to rest in the refrigerator so preheat the oven accordingly to 375°F.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar for 3 – 4 minutes, or until pail and creamy.

Add the flour and mix until crumbly. Pour mixture into the prepared pan and shake to distribute evenly. With your fingertips press into an even layer. Prick the dough with a few times with a fork. Refrigerate for at least an hour or up to 8 hours.

Bake in a preheated oven for 20 minutes or until lightly golden. Let cool.

1 cup (4 ½ oz, 135 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
6 ounces premium roasted white chocolate, chopped
5 tablespoons (2 ½ oz, 70 g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 large eggs (3 1/2 ounces)
1 cup (7 oz, 200 g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup (2 ¼ oz, 65 g) macadamia nuts, toasted lightly and chopped coarse
Generous 1/3 cup (2 oz, 55 g) chopped dried sour cherries
1/2 cup (2 1/2 oz, 75 g) bittersweet chocolate chips

When ready to finish the blondies, preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan and line with parchment paper, extending the ends over on two sides.

Measure  flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir with a whisk to combine. Set aside.

In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt white chocolate and butter, stirring, until smooth. Remove the bowl or top of double boiler from heat. Cool chocolate mixture to room temperature.

In a large bowl with a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat eggs, sugar, and vanilla until thickened and pale. Reduce the speed and stir in the cooled white chocolate. Stir the flour mixture into chocolate mixture until batter is just combined. Stir in nuts, chocolate chips, and cherries. Spread batter evenly in over cooled shortbread.

Bake blondies in middle of oven 30 to 35 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool brownies completely in pan on a rack before cutting into 32 squares or 16 or 8 squares. Brownies keep, layered between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container at cool room temperature, 5 days.

Posted in Desserts, General Blog, Ingredients | Leave a comment

Crème Fraîche-Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

I made a pint of crème fraîche the other day to serve with a rhubarb tart. The tart made it to a friend’s dinner party however, I left the crème fraîche in the fridge. I thought, what the heck I’m I going to do with all this deliciousness because of course the tart was long gone?

Then I remembered that my baking buddies were going to be testing pie recipes soon, so I re-purposed  the creamy goodness in this ice cream. I knew the tartness of the crème fraîche would cut some of the sweetness of the pies.

Also recently, I was reading an article (it may have been by David Lebovitz) that questioned the need to heat milk and then temper the eggs into the hot liquid. Why not just start with cool/cold milk and cold eggs.

Slowly heat them together until thickened.  Voila! you’re done. This method worked beautifully. I also poured the ice cream base in the bowl that had held the crème fraîche thereby saving me from having to wash at least two bowls.


1 plump vanilla bean, organic if possible
1 cup (8 ounces) whole milk, organic if possible
¾ cup (5 ¼ ounces) granulated sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
5 large egg yolks (freeze the whites for say…angel food cake)
2 cups (16 ounces) crème fraîche*

Prepare an ice bath and grab a fine mesh strainer.

Split the vanilla bean from end to end, open it up and scrap the seeds from the pod with the back of a paring knife. Place the seeds and pod in a medium saucepan along with the milk, sugar, and salt. Heat and stir just until the sugar melts. Remove from heat and allow the vanilla bean to steep until liquid is cool to the touch.

Whisk the egg yolks into the cooled steeped milk and return the mixture to medium heat. Stir constantly with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. If using an instant read thermometer as a guide it should read no hotter than 170°F (any hotter and the threat of scrambled eggs increases dramatically).

Remove from heat and whisk in the crème fraîche. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir to cool over the ice bath. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator.

Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  It can stand on it’s own or serve with your favorite fruit pie or tart.

*Crème Fraîche
1 pint heavy cream, pasteurized but not ultra-pasteurized
2 tablespoons buttermilk

Combine the cream and buttermilk. Pour into a clean glass or non-reactive bowl.  Partially cover with a clean dishtowel and let stand at room temperature (between 65 and 75 degrees) for 8 to 24 hours, or until thickened.

Posted in Desserts, Ingredients, Recipes | Leave a comment

Rhubarb Frangipane Tart

Rhubarb was still available at the Farmer’s Market last week.  Actually, it’s still available in my garden. I’ve tested this recipe four times and since practice makes perfect, it’s time I got this recipe posted before the season is over for another year.

IMG_20150711_125545-4 (1)

Tart Dough, Pâte Sucrée
1 large egg yolk
4 tablespoons heavy cream, divided
1 3/4 cups (7 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) sugar
1/4 teaspoon koaher salt
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

Frangipane (Almond Cream):
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup (4 ounces/112 grams) almond flour*
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 large egg, preferably organic
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
zest of one lemon

To Finish:
About 15 stalks of rhubarb, cleaned of leaves and washed

For the tart dough:
In a small bowl, beat together the egg yolk and 2 tablespoons of cream. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

In the bowl of a food processor using the metal blade, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Pulse a couple of times to combine. Toss the pieces of butter evenly over the flour. Pulse until the mixture looks crumbly and the butter pieces are about the size of peas. Don’t over-process or your crust will be tough. Add the egg yolk mixture and pulse just until the dough comes together.

The dough should begin to hold together. Stop before it forms a ball around the blade. Turn the dough out onto a counter. With the palm of your hand smear the dough away from you. Using a bench scraper, fold it back onto itself and smear again until the mixture is combined. Flattened and form it into a rectangle, wrap with the plastic, and chill for at least 1 hour or overnight.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it sit for 10 minutes or until it becomes malleable for easier rolling. Lightly dust a smooth surface as well as a rolling pin. Roll out a 10 x 13-inch rectangle of dough. Use your bench scraper and flip the dough over on occasion to prevent it from sticking. The trick is to work quickly so that the butter does not start to melt. Once rolled out to the correct size carefully place it in the tart pan. Fold the overhang back into the pan and pinch to form a ¼-inch rise above the pan. Return the tart shell to the refrigerator or freezer for at least 1/2 hour.

When ready to blind bake the tart dough preheat the oven to 400ºF.  After the oven has pre-heated, remove the tart shell from the refrigerator and place it on a sheet pan. Line it with parchment paper and pie weights. Bake for about 15 minutes or until it just begins to brown. Take out of the oven, remove the pie weights and parchment paper and set on a cooling rack. While the tart shell is cooling make the frangipane.

For the frangipane:
In the bowl of a food processor, using the metal blade whiz the butter and sugar together until the mixture is smooth. Note that if you make the frangipane soon after making the dough there’s no need to wash the processor bowl before making it.

Add the ground almonds and continue to process until well blended.  Add the flour and cornstarch, process again and then add the egg.  Process for about 15 seconds more, or until the almond cream is is smooth and fully combined.

Add the almond and vanilla extracts, salt, zest and process just to blend. Scrape the frangipane into a container and either use it immediately or refrigerate it until ready to use.

To finish the tart:
Set the cooled tart shell on a sheet pan. With and off-set spatula, spread the frangipane evenly in the cooled tart shell.  Cut the rhubarb to fit the size of the tart. Bake at 375ºF for about 1/2 hour or until the rhubarb can be easily pierced with a knife and frangipane is puffed and golden brown.  Allow to cool before serving.

*If you are unable to find almond flour is can easily be made. In the bowl of a food processor using the metal blade, combine the 4 ounces of blanched almonds with 1/3 cup of granulated sugar. Pulse until the almonds are finely ground.  Be careful not process so long that it becomes oily. Proceed with recipe above where the butter and sugar are combined.

Posted in Desserts, General Blog, Recipes | Leave a comment

Tarte citron et de fromage blanc (Lemon and fresh cheese Tart)

Besides a sauce pan, colander, cheesecloth, spatula, and tart pan, you know the usual; there are what some would consider “specialty” equipment items that are needed for this recipe. One is a calibrated thermometer and the other is a kitchen scale – one that can weigh in ounces and grams. My theory is to always invest in quality tools and they should last you a lifetime. They will also make your baking life much easier.

I tested the fromage blanc recipe at least a 1/2 dozen times sometimes with cream and other times without, adding more or less vinegar, as well as adding salt or eliminating salt.  The recipe below is the result of all the testing and what I consider just the right amount of creaminess and salinity.

For the tart shell, I also tested several dough recipes. So far this one from BakeWise seems to hold up the best after baking, especially if transporting. Be sure that the prepared tart shell is well chilled and that the oven is preheated. Otherwise, when it starts to bake the butter melts out before the dough sets.

David Schmit was the photographer.  Check out his work at David Paul Schmit Photography.

061215_GreatBowls_B6566 (1)For the tart dough:
Pâte Sablée* (adapted from BakeWise, by Shirley Corriher)

1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon cold water (original recipe suggested apple cider vinegar), plus additional cold water if needed
½ cup plus 5 tablespoons (184 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 ½ cups (187 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (38 g) confectioner’s sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt

In a small bowl beat together the egg yolk, cream, and water. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.  Cut the butter into pieces, set them on a plate, and place in the refrigerator as well, until ready to use.

In the bowl of a food processor using the metal “S” blade, pour in the flour, sugar, and salt. Pulse to evenly distribute the dry ingredients.

Scatter the pieces of butter on top of the flour mixture. Pulse until each piece of butter is about the size of a pea. Don’t get caught up that every piece has to be exactly the size of a pea.  It’s okay that some are larger or smaller in size.

Remove the lid and pour the egg mixture over the flour/butter mixture. (I found that when pouring the egg mixture while the motor is running, the liquid tends to collect under the blade.) Pulse until the dough just begins to come together. Remove the lid and (being careful of the blade) press a bit of the dough with your fingers to determine if it will stick together.  If not, sprinkle a teaspoon of cold water over the mixture, return the lid and pulse again to further combine the dough.

When the dough comes together remove it from the processor bowl onto a clean counter. With the palm of your hand smear the dough away from you to incorporate. With a bench knife gather up the pieces and smear again until incorporated. This simple technique is called fraisage.  It allows the dough to come together without using an excessive amount of liquid. Once the dough is in one mass form it into a disk. Wrap it in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour and up to 24 hours.

When ready to finish making the tart preheat oven to 400°F. On a lightly floured board roll the pastry dough into a circle about 13-inches in diameter. Line a 10-inch removable bottom tart pan with it. Prick the bottom of the pastry shell all over with a fork and chill for at least 30 minutes or until the dough is firm. Remove from the refrigerator, line with parchment paper, add pie weights and bake for about 30 minutes.  Check for doneness and continue until the crust is beginning to brown.

For the filling:
1 pound (500 g) fromage blanc* or ricotta cheese, drained
1/3 cup (1 dl) heavy cream or crème fraiche
3 large eggs, room temperature and separated
2/3 cup (135 g) granulated sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons (40 g) corn starch
zest of 2 lemons, organic if possible
¼ teaspoon pure lemon extract
pinch of kosher salt

About 10 minutes prior to the tart shell having finished baking, using the metal “S” blade, mix together in the bowl of a food processor the drained cheese, cream, egg yolks, sugar, corn starch, zest, extract, and salt. Set aside.

In a clean bowl beat the egg whites (either with the whisk attachment using a stand mixer, with a hand mixer, or like I do with a balloon whisk and a copper bowl) with a pinch of salt to the soft-peak stage.  With a large spatula quickly stir 1/3 of the egg whites into the cheese mixture to lighten it.  Then gently fold in the remaining 2/3 of the egg whites. (Don’t dilly-dally when folding as you don’t want to deflate the air that you just beat into the egg whites.)

As soon at the tart shell is out of the oven and the weights are removed, pour the filling into the shell and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the filling is puffed and golden. Let the tart cool, dust with powdered sugar and serve.  I imagine it would be great with sliced seasonal fruit.

For the fromage blanc:

1 gallon whole milk, not ultra-pasteurized and preferably organic
1 pint heavy cream, not ultra-pasteurized and preferably organic
1/4 cup, plus 1 tablespoon white vinegar, separated, preferably organic
pinch of kosher salt

Line a colander with 4 single layers of cheesecloth.  Place over a large bowl and set aside.

In a large saucepan add the milk and cream.  Slowly bring the mixture up to 190°F stirring constantly.  Once the mixture has reached the temperature remove from the heat and stir in 1/4 cup of white vinegar. Almost immediately, the curds should begin to separate from the whey. If the curds seem slow to separate, stir in the remaining tablespoon of vinegar.  Allow the mixture to sit for about 10 minutes.

Pour the mixture over the cheesecloth lined colander.  Sprinkle with salt and carefully mix into the cheese. Bring the four corners of the cheesecloth over the handle of a wooden spoon and tie off to create a bundle thus allowing the cheese to drain.  Draining for about an hour should result in a pound of cheese. Reserve some of the whey so that if the final weight of the cheese does not equal a pound, add enough whey back in to do so.

061215_GreatBowls_B6569 (3)

Posted in Cooking Classes, Desserts, General Blog, Ingredients | Leave a comment

Goat or Cow’s Milk, Caramel Chocolate Truffles

IMG_0045 (1)For the first batch of these decedent chocolates, I made them with Kalona SuperNatural cream and butter.  But then, I came across a can of goat’s milk and butter from my caramel-making.  Finding these these ingredients inspired me to delve into another experiment.  I figured if Goat’s Milk Caramels are delicious why not truffles as well.  Low and behold they are luscious with just a bit of tang.

It’s important to have all the ingredients at the ready as the caramelized sugar will continue to cook even when off the heat.  It waits for no one and will quickly go from perfect to burnt in a matter of seconds.  But with the ingredients at hand, all that is needed is to do is pour in the cream and add the butter to stop the cooking process.

As far as which chocolate to use, seek out such brands such as Callebaut, Ghirardilli, Scharffen Berger, or Valrhona.  I used Valrhona Manjari 64% Dark Chocolate disks. If you’ve ever considered enjoying a side by side taste test, here’s a perfect opportunity to hone in on which one(s) you like best.

I’ve also crossed the line whereby I now caramelize sugar without the addition of water.  There’s no going back as it takes considerably less time than if water is added as it must evaporate before the sugar will caramelize. If you are not ready to venture into this territory by all means add a bit of water to the sugar, say 2 tablespoons. This will give additional security and control of the caramelization process.

If using goat’s milk and butter:
12 ounces canned goat’s milk
2 tablespoons (1 ounce or 30 g) goat butter
7 ounces (200 g) dark chocolate, 64%, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup (4 ounces or 120 g) granulated sugar
pinch salt
1/2 cup give or take (100 g) unsweetened cocoa powder

Pour the goat’s milk into a small saucepan.  Place the pan on medium heat and reduce the milk to 1/2 cup (4 ounces).  It should take about 20 minutes. Keep an eye on it.  Trust me, it will boil over if left unattended.

As it’s reducing, check for volume by pouring the milk into a glass measuring cup. If it’s not quite 4 ounces, pour the milk back into the saucepan to reduce a bit more.  Once it measures 4 ounces in the liquid measuring cup, set aside.  (This mixture is in place of the cream.) From here continue with the method given below the next list of ingredients.

If using cow’s cream and butter:
7 ounces (200 g) dark chocolate, such as 64%, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup (4 ounces or 120 g) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon water, optional*
2 tablespoons (1 ounce or 30 g) unsalted butter
Pinch fine salt
1/2 cup (12 cl or 125 milliliters) whipping cream
1/2 cup give or take (100 g) unsweetened cocoa powder

Place the  chop the chocolate in a heat proof bowl and set aside.

If NOT using water:
Place a medium-sized heavy bottom saucepan on medium heat and carefully sprinkle about 1/3 of the sugar across the bottom of the pan. As the sugar melts, swirl the pan so that it starts to melt evenly. Add another 1/3 of the sugar and continue swirling the pan to melt the sugar, then add the remaining sugar and keep swirling.

If using water:
Off heat, in a medium heavy bottom saucepan and add the sugar and water.  Stir the water into the sugar until it resembles wet sand.  Place the pan on medium-low heat and continue stirring until the sugar melts.  Once it melts stop your stirring.  It’s okay to swirl the pan but you don’t want the sugar to splatter on the sides of the pan.  If that happens take a pastry brush dipped in water and wash the sugar back into the pan.

As the sugar melts it will caramelize, have a toasty aroma and look like the color of a copper penny. Once this occurs quickly pour in the cream, salt and butter. Be careful as the cream will bubble up and create quite a bit of steam. Stir with a heat proof spatula until the caramel as completely re-melted. Then pour it directly onto the chocolate and allow the caramel to melt the chocolate.  After it has cooled a bit stir the mixture to melt the chocolate completely. Refrigerate until the mixture becomes firm to the touch.

After the chocolate has set-up, scoop out portions with a small spoon or tiny spring loaded scoop to make small balls. (They don’t have to be perfectly round as they should resemble the other kind of truffles that are found buried under oak or hazelnut trees.) Place them on a parchment lined pan or plate and return them to the refrigerator until they are again firm.

After they are firm roll them in cocoa powder.  Allow them to come to room temperature and enjoy by themselves or with a glass of port.

Posted in Desserts, General Blog, Recipes | Leave a comment

Poires en Croute or Pears Wrapped in Puff Pastry

I was recently introduced to a cooking show called, The Great British Bake Off, which is currently airing on the BBC.  During the episode that I happened to watch the contestant challenge was to make poached pears wrapped in puff pastry.  Granted they made a blitz or quick puff, but they only had 3 hours to complete the entire dessert.   The “ribbons” or strips of dough were to be wrapped around the poached pears and then baked off.

If remembering correctly, only one poor soul accomplished the task with any dignity remaining.  I felt their pain as I know how hot it can get when cooking in the summer, and even more so, when the scenario includes baking in a tent.  Since it’s not summer, but instead the dead of winter, I thought I’d take a stab at this recipe and see how my outcome might fare.  The show referred to the recipe as a “Mini Pear Pie”.  I’m not convinced that that name does any justice to the results.

9 pears is not a magic number.  I just happened to be going to a party where 8 would be in attendance.  I’ve also learned the hard way that it’s advantageous to make an extra – of anything – just in case.  You could poach 3 or 5 or 7, but then you might have some champagne left over.  That wouldn’t be all bad since you should taste it anyway to ensure that it’s worthy of being used for poaching.

Baked Pear on Plate

9 slightly under ripe bosc pears, washed and stems attached
1 lemon, cut in half
1 bottle demi-sec Champagne or Prosecco
1 or 2 blood oranges, washed and organic if possible
1 3 to 4-inch cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, split
2 cups granulated sugar, divided
Boiling water at the ready, just in case it is needed
1 3/4 pounds puff pastry, preferably home-made
1 large egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon of water for an egg wash

Use a non-reactive pan, with a lid, that is just large enough to snugly hold the number of pears that are being poached.  It should be deep enough so that the fruit can be completely submerged in liquid with at least 3-inches of head room.

Cut a piece of parchment paper large enough to fit just inside the circumference of the pot.  Cut a small hole in the center of the circle to allow air to escape.  Set aside until ready to use.

Slice the oranges about a 1/4-inch thick and place them in the poaching pot – one slice for each pear that is being poached.  Pop the cork and and after having a taste, pour the champagne or prosecco in the pot.  Of course, depending on the size of your pot, all of the liquid may not be necessary.  Add the cinnamon stick, vanilla bean, and 1 cup of sugar.  Set the pan on medium heat and bring to a boil.

While the liquid is coming to a boil, cut a sliver (in other words; just enough) off the bottom of each pear to allow it to stand upright.  Peel each and rub one of the halves of lemon on them to prevent browning.  Once the liquid comes to a boil, reduce the heat to barely a simmer and add the peeled pears.  I picked them up by their stem, but you may want to use a ladle to get them safely in the poaching liquid.

Once all of the pears are in the poaching liquid, add enough remaining champagne, prosecco, or boiling water to cover the fruit.  Place the parchment paper circle on top to cover the fruit.  This step is additional insurance to prevent the fruit from being exposed to air and browning.  Place the lid on the pot, leaving it slightly ajar and allow the pears to simmer in the poaching liquid.

Start checking for doneness about 15 – 20 minutes after the pears begin cooking.  Of course the cooking time depends on how ripe the pears are in the first place.  The more ripe they are, the quicker they will cook.  Test each one.  Once the pear can be easily pierced with the tip of a knife, remove it to a rimmed plate.

Soaking Pears

After all the pears have been removed and are cooling, taste the poaching liquid for sweetness.  Add additional sugar, up to one cup to suit your taste, realizing that the liquid will be reduced to a syrup.  After the syrup starts to thicken, ladle a bit over the pears and let them continue to cool.

Once the pears are cool you are ready to proceed.  Preheat the oven to 400°F.  Roll out the pastry dough to between 1/8 and 1/4-inch thick and about 18-inches long.  You don’t want to roll it so thin that it doesn’t puff nor so thick as it takes too long to bake.  Cut long strips of pastry about 1/3-inch wide and the entire length of the pastry.  When all the strips have been cut, brush them completely with the egg wash.

Pick up one strip of dough and starting at the bottom, wrap the pastry around the pear, overlapping it just slightly as you wind the dough up the pear.  When that strip comes to an end, overlap the next one and continue winding up until you reach the top of the pear.   It takes about three 1/3 x 18-inch strips to encase one pear.  As you finish each pear, set it on a pan in a cool place to dry.

Wrapped Pears

After all the pears have been wrapped in pastry and dried, carefully brush the outside of each with additional egg wash.  If you want to get extra fancy, and there a few scraps of dough remaining, cut out leaf shapes from the dough and attach it to the pears with egg wash.  The egg wash was my trick to keep the dough adhered to the pear.  It’s not something that they did on the show, but had they, the dough might have not slid off the pears while baking.

Pears BakedIt should take between 30 minutes to 1 hour to bake depending on the thickness of the dough.  Keep an eye on them if they start to brown too much, reduce the heat.  After the pastry is a golden brown, remove the pan from the oven to cool them a bit.  If desired, using a pastry brush, brush each with some of the reduced poaching liquid.  It will make them shine!  The Pears can be served warm or at room temperature.  Serve with the candied orange slices and any combination of the following:  reduced poaching liquid, ice cream, and/or whipped cream.   Many thanks to the TGBBO for the inspiration.

Posted in Cooking Classes, Desserts, General Blog, Ingredients, Recipes | 4 Comments

Classic Puff Pastry

Don’t be dissuaded by anyone who tells you that it’s difficult to make puff pastry.  It takes basically two things – time: most of which is the dough chilling in the fridge and patience: the process cannot be rushed.

Here’s the reason for not rushing it.  The butter needs to remain cold to stay within the dough while you roll it out.  If it starts to seep or ooze through – STOP – wrap it back up and put it in the refrigerator for awhile.  If you take these two details into account, the likelihood of success is greatly increased.

Here’s another tidbit of information.  I have made puff pastry for years, but most recently happened upon a recipe calling for lemon juice.  I couldn’t for the life of me find the reason why acid would need to be added.   All it took was an message to a friend who is a pastry chef/instructor to learn something new.  The lemon juice denatures the gluten strands in the flour, giving them greater strength.  When it comes to puff pastry, having robust gluten is an asset.  Some recipes call for bread flour, which makes sense due to its higher gluten content;  however, bread flour is not always readily at hand, even in my kitchen.

The following is a classic recipe for puff pastry.  It involves creating a block of butter and flour, which is then encased in pastry dough.   The encased block of dough is then rolled and folded six times.   I’ve never done the math, but I’m told that after the “six turns”, 729 layers of dough/butter are created.  However, sept-cent-vingt-neuf-feuille is definitely more complicated to pronounce than simply saying “mille-feuille” or 1000 layers.  Other times it is called “pâté feuilletée”, which means pastry made leaf-like.”

Regardless of what you call it, homemade puff pastry is amazing.  Make two batches back to back.  Dividing each batch in half, two batches will give you about four 1½ pound blocks of dough.  These can be individually wrapped, frozen and ready to use later.

If you do freeze the dough, remember to thaw whatever portion you want to bake off overnight in the refrigerator.  Thawing it on the counter is not the best option.  It tends to sweat and then become a sticky mess; much like me in the summer.  Also, do not attempt to thaw in the microwave.  You will regret that you even attempted such a thing.

The block of butter
1 lb 1½ oz (500 g) cold unsalted Butter
2 teaspoons (10ml) fresh lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoons (1/4 oz or 10g) kosher salt
1 cup (4.5 oz or 130g) unbleached all-purpose flour

 The dough
2 ½ cups (11.25 oz or 320 g) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
½ cup (2 oz or 60 g) cake flour
4 tablespoons (2 oz or 60 g) soft unsalted Butter
pinch salt
1 cup (240 ml) ice cold water

In a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, mix butter, lemon juice, salt, and flour into a smooth mass.

Lay a piece of plastic wrap down on the counter that is about 24-inches in length. Using a spatula scrape the butter mixture from the mixer and plop it near the middle of the plastic wrap.  Fold the plastic wrap over onto the butter and form it into an approximately 6-inch square.

Peel off the plastic wrap when it starts to wrinkle and place it back over the butter.  Flip the block over as well if it starts to wrinkle on the bottom.  The end result is a block of butter with obviously no plastic wrap incorporated in it only wrapped around it.  I only mention this from my own experience.  After you’ve got the butter evenly squared up and wrapped, refrigerate it until firm.


While the block of butter is firming up in the fridge, it’s time to make the dough.  In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal “S” blade pour in the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt.  Pulse to mix.  Scatter the 4 tablespoons of butter around the flour mixture and pulse again to evenly incorporate it.  Remove the lid and all at once, pour the water near the outside edge of the bowl but over the flour mixture.  It’s been my experience that if you pour the water through the feed tube with the machine running, some of the water collects under the blade.  This is not the result for which you are aiming.  Return the lid and run the processor again until the dough forms a ball on the blade.

Dough in Processor

Be careful of the blade as you remove the dough from the machine.  Form it into about a 4-inch disk and using a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for about ½ hour.

You are ready to proceed when the block of butter is firm and your dough has rested a bit under refrigeration.   Unwrap the chilled dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour.  Pat out the dough into about a 6-inch square.  Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad that has “ears” or flaps at each corner.

Dough with Ears

Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the “ears” over the butter, stretching as needed so they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely.  It should be about 6-inches square.  The first time I saw that huge block of butter on the dough I thought to myself, “there’s no way all that butter is going to fit in such a small amount of dough.”  Have no fear, it will fit just fine.

Butter on ears

It’s now time to make the first of six turns.  Using a rolling pin, press the dough 5 or 6 times to create creases across the block.  This helps distribute the butter and makes is easier to start rolling.  It should look like a piece of  corrugated cardboard.  Then, keeping the work surface and dough well floured, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square with which you started, say about 24 inches in length.

Especially with this first turn, check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along the entire length and width of the dough.  If it’s not adjust accordingly, by rolling with more or less pressure; more evenly or whatever is necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter “sandwich” or lamination.  (Another term for this pastry is “laminated dough“.  I just thought I’d throw that in, in case you see this definition somewhere.)  With a pastry brush, remove the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter.  Brush off any excess flour that was on the bottom as well prior to making the final “business letter” fold.  You have completed one turn.

Turn One

Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book.  Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24 inches and then folding in thirds.  This is the second turn.

 It might be time to chill, either you or the dough; or maybe not.  If the dough is still cool and no butter is seeping  out, you can give the dough another turn or even two turns.  If the condition of the dough is sketchy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes.  Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you’ve completed. You will think you will remember, but you trust me you won’t.

Turn Three

The dough can also be to refrigerated 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns, say if you have laundry to finish.  However in the end, the total number of turns needed is six before it’s ready to be rolled out one last time to make your favorite tart shell, turnovers, palmiers, or pot pie crust.


Posted in Basics, Cooking Classes, Desserts, General Blog, Ingredients | Leave a comment