Chocolate Gâteau


I often get “ribbed” when testing a new recipe as I can never leave it well alone and just follow the directions as written.  This time around, against my better judgement, I decided to follow it as presented.  It was a disaster.  I baked the cake for triple the suggested time and it was still a soupy mess.

The result from the second round of testing was at least edible, but I was still not happy with the results.  Therefore, it was back to the kitchen for additional researching and another round of baking.

For example, as part of my testing, I baked one gâteau with a parchment paper collar and another without one.  It is one more step, but the cake holds it shape much better using the collar while baking.

Also, since there are so few ingredients, my suggestion is to use the best ingredients available to you.    For instance, I used a Valrhona Manjari chocolate with its undertone of dark cherry.  I also used organic unsalted butter produced by Kalona SuperNatural.

1 pound (500 grams) 53 – 65 percent chocolate cut into small pieces
1/2 pound (250 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
1 tablespoon instant espresso coffee crystals dissolved in a scant ¼ cup hot water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
8 large eggs (400 grams)
powdered sugar or cocoa powder for dusting

Set the rack to the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350°F  Dissolve the espresso powder in the water and add the vanilla extract.  Butter an 8 x 3-inch cake pan. Line bottom and sides with parchment paper, extending paper 2-inches above the pan to create a collar.  Set aside.

Place the chocolate pieces and butter in a large heatproof bowl and set over a pan of barely simmering water without allowing the bowl of chocolate to touch the water.  Stir occasionally until melted.  Stir in the espresso/vanilla mixture and set aside to cool.

While the chocolate is cooling, place the eggs into the bowl of a stand mixer and stir in the sugar.  Set the bowl in the same pan of simmering water and whisk until the eggs are warm to the touch and sugar has melted.

Remove the bowl from the water and set on the stand mixer.  Using the whisk attachment beat on medium high for 8 minutes.  The eggs will quadruple if not more in volume.

Bring the simmering water to a boil for use in the hot water bath, i.e. a bain marie (pronounced “bane mah-REE”).  This is a shallow oven-proof pan just large enough to hold to cake pan.   When ready to bake the gâteau, fill the pan half-full of boiling water.

In 3 separate but equal portions fold the egg mixture in to the chocolate mixture.  Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and set in the bain marie.  Bake for about 40 minutes or until an instant read thermometer reads 140°F.  Remove the cake pan from the water bath and cool on a wire rack. When cool, refrigerate overnight.

Prior to serving heat the bottom of the cake pan over a low flame. Using an 8-inch cardboard round, place on top of the cake and flip out the cake from the pan.

Flip back over and set on a cake plate. Dust cake with confectioners’ sugar or cocoa powder and serve.   As an alternative, whip the cream and sweeten with confectioner’s sugar.


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Eggnog Crème Brûlée

Eggnog Creme Brulee

I used Kalona SuperNatural eggnog for this recipe.  It’s all organic with no stabilizers or preservatives.  And, above all it’s really good!

Of course any type of oven-proof ramekins can be used, but I enjoy the crunchy caramelized sugar to creamy custard ratio that is achieved when using a shallow vessel.

4 – four ounce servings

2 cups commercially prepared eggnog
5 large egg yolks, preferably organic
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup mascarpone cheese, softened
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
3 – 4 tablespoons granulated or turbinado sugar (for finishing)

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Line a half-sheet pan with a towel and place 4 – four ounce ramekins on it.  Set aside.

Pour the eggnog into a pan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture simmers, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the egg yolks and sugar into a mixing bowl and whisk together until light colored and frothy.  Stir the mascarpone into the yolk mixture until well blended and smooth.

Slowly whisk 1/4 cup of the heated eggnog mixture into the beaten yolks to temper them.  (This will prevent them from scrambling.)  Then, gradually whisk the remaining eggnog into the yolks.

Pour the eggnog mixture through a fine sieve to remove any egg strands.  Stir in the nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves.

Pour the mixture into the ramekins, dividing evenly.  Set pan in the oven.  Then fill the pan ½ full with boiling water.

Cook  for 40 – 50 minutes.  The centers should wiggle just slightly when shaken, but not be soupy.

Remove from water bath and cool for 30 minutes, then refrigerate for at least 3-4 hours or overnight before serving.  When ready to serve, sprinkle each serving with some of the granulated or turbinado sugar and caramelize with a kitchen torch or under a pre-heated broiler.

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Bourbon-Pecan Tart

Pecan Tart

Yield: Makes 12 – 16 servings

1 – tart dough*
3 large eggs, preferably organic and at room temperature
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons Irish Whiskey or Bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups pecan halves or pieces

Pâte sucrée (Sweet Short Pastry Dough)*
2 cups (9 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (2 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (1/4 ounce) salt
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cold, and cut into 10 pieces
2 large eggs, whisked together

For the dough, combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade.  Pulse several times to mix.  Distribute the butter and pulse until it is coarsely chopped.   Add the eggs and pulse again until the dough just begins to come together.

Invert the dough to a floured work surface and carefully remove the blade.  Divide into about 7 or 8 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat.  This is known in French as fraisage.   It is done to distribute the fat which promotes flakiness when it is baked.  After this step gather the dough up with a bench knife, form it into a disk and wrap in it plastic.  Chill the dough while preparing the filling.  You may prepare the dough up to 2 days before assembling and baking the tart.

When you are ready to bake the tart, set a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350°F.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to warm just until it is malleable and no longer hard.  Flour it and roll it to a 14-inch disk.  Fold the dough in quarters and drape it into the pan, lining up the point with the center of the pan.

Unfold the dough into the pan and press it into the bottom and sides of the pan, folding over the excess to make a decorative rim.  Using a fork, dock the bottom of the tart shell.  Keep any extra dough for patching potential cracks during baking.  Chill the dough while preparing the filling.

Tart Dough

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Set the prepared tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet and line tart dough with foil or parchment paper.  Fill with dried beans or pie weights.  Bake until tart dough is set and pale golden, about 30 minutes. Remove foil and weights.   Patch any cracks with extra dough and continue baking crust until golden brown, about 10 more minutes.

Meanwhile, using electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar in medium bowl. Beat in maple syrup.  Add butter, bourbon, vanilla, and salt; beat until blended. Stir in pecans, reserving enough to made a decorative pattern if desired.

Pour pecan filling into hot crust. Bake until center of filling is set, about 25 minutes.  Cool tart on rack 1 hour; remove pan sides.  Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. DO AHEAD: Can be made 8 hours ahead. Rewarm slightly before serving, if desired.

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Crème Fraîche Pumpkin Tart with Pecan-Ginger Shortbread Crust

Pumpkin Tart_v2

I must confess, I enjoy tarts better than pies as the ratio of crust to filling is more balanced.  And, since I can never leave well enough alone with any recipe, I switched up Mom’s pumpkin pie recipe by replacing the evaporated milk with home-made crème fraîche.

If you whip up the crème fraîche tomorrow, you will still have time to make this delicious tart by Thanksgiving.

1 can (15 ounces) pure pumpkin purée
3/4 cup (about 5.3 ounces) firmly packed light-brown sugar
8 ounces crème fraîche*, reserve the remaining to use as a topping or for another use.
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
10-inch tart shell**

Preheat oven to 350°F.  In a medium bowl, whisk together pumpkin purée, brown sugar, crème fraîche, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and cloves until smooth.  Pour filling into prepared crust.

Bake until filling is set, about 40 – 50 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool at least 30 minutes.  Refrigerate until well set, at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

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

Combine the cream and buttermilk in a saucepan and heat to no more than 85°F on an instant reading thermometer.  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.

Ginger-Pecan Shortbread Crust**
1/2 cup (2 ounces) pecans
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups (6 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (3/4 ounces) powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup (4 ounces) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus more for buttering pan
1 large egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Place pecans in an ovenproof pan and cook for about 15 minutes or until toasted and fragrant.  Remove from oven and transfer to a shallow bowl or plate to cool.

While the pecans are toasting, butter a 10-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom.  Line bottom with a round of parchment paper.

Combine cooled pecans and granulated sugar in food processor; using the metal “S” blade finely grind nuts.  Add flour, powdered sugar, and salt and blend for an additional 5 seconds or so.  Add butter and pulse using on/off turns, until coarse meal forms.  Add beaten egg and blend until moist clumps form, about 30 seconds.

Press dough evenly onto bottom and up sides of prepared pan. Pierce bottom all over with fork. Freeze crust at least 1 hour, if wanting to freeze for more than an hour, removed from freezer and wrap tightly with aluminum foil.  Return to freezer for up to 1 day.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Bake crust uncovered until deep golden brown, checking often and pressing sides and bottom with back of fork during first 15 minutes when crust puffs or bubbles, about 20 minutes total. Cool completely.

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Chocolate Pots de Crème

pot de creme v1

Making pot de crème is surprisingly easy and when the best ingredients are used, it never fails to be delicious.  Also, if kept wrapped and refrigerated, it can be made up to 3 days in advance, thus making it the perfect end to a dinner party.

The finished dessert can be served in a variety of containers, but beware, it is very rich.  Therefore, a relatively small container would be my preference.   The recipe makes about 30 fluid ounces  Pour water into the container of your choice and measure the amount of ounces.  Divide that amount by 30 to get the number of vessels that will be needed.  I used 2-ounce containers and made 15 servings.

Also, instead of spending time finely chopping chocolate with a chef’s knife, I put the larger pieces in a food processor.  Using the metal “S” blade, give it a few pulses and it makes short work to render it all finely chopped.

Makes about 30 fluid ounces

9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used Valrhona 65%)
5 large egg yolks, organic if possible
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup half-and-half
½ vanilla bean, split
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder mixed with 1 tablespoon water

Garnishes (optional)
Whipped cream
A dusting of cocoa powder
Sprinkle on a few chocolate shavings

After the chocolate is finely chopped, place it in medium heatproof bowl.  Set a fine-mesh strainer over bowl and set them aside.  In another medium bowl, whisk together yolks, sugar, and salt until combined; whisk in heavy cream and half-and-half.

Transfer mixture, along with the vanilla bean to a medium saucepan.  Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of pot with a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula until thickened.

The custard should register between 175° to 180° F on an instant-read thermometer and should take about 8 to 12 minutes.  Do not let the custard simmer or it will become grainy due to the egg yolks curdling.

Immediately pour the hot custard through the strainer and over the chocolate.  Let the mixture stand to melt the chocolate, about 5 minutes. Whisk gently until smooth, then stir in the espresso.  Divide mixture evenly among individual ramekins/vessels. Gently tap each one to remove air bubbles.

Cool pots de crème to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours or up to 3 days.  Before serving, let pots de crème stand at room temperature 20 to 30 minutes.

Serve with your favorite garnish.

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Vanilla Pastry Cream and Fresh Berry Tart

_MG_7707 Bret August Fruit Tart 2

Before all the berries are gone and we’ve all moved on to apples and pears, I thought I’d better get this recipe posted.  There are many variations for tart dough and all work quite well with a few caveats.  Keep your ingredients cold (even putting the flour in the freezer) and working the dough just enough for it to come together.  If making dough is not your forte, feel free to use a high quality puff pastry.

One recipe of pastry cream (recipe below)
Fresh berries (about 4 pints)
Pre-baked tart shell (recipe below)
½ cup apricot jam, heated and strained (if desired)

Tart Dough
For about 1 pound pastry (enough for two 8 to 9-inch tart shells)
from Semone Beck’s cookbook, “Simca’s Cuisine”.  Method learned by Kathie Alex

2 cups (9 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
6 tablespoons cold heavy cream, beaten with 1 large egg yolk

Place dry ingredients in a bowl of a food processor and process 2 to 3 seconds.  Evenly divide the butter around the bowl of the processor, carefully coating the pieces with the flour.  (Just don’t cut your finger on the blade.)  Pulse for 8 to 10 seconds, until butter is pea-sized.Add the beaten egg and cream mixture through the pour-spout with the processor running, just until the mixture starts to stick together.  If the dough seems dry add additional cream, one teaspoon at a time.

Turn out onto a cold surface.  Using the palm of your hand smear a little of the dough at a time across to evenly blend together.  Using a bench scrapper, bring dough together.  Divide it evenly into two pieces.  Form each into flat discs and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  Chill for at least a 1/2 hour before rolling out.  Wrapped tightly, dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for a month.<

When ready to make tart, roll out one of the disks about 1 ½ inches larger than tart.  Line tart pan with dough, folding over any excess and pressing against the sides of the pan.  Return dough filled tart pan to the freezer for about ½ hour.

Preheat oven to 375°F conventional or 350°F convection.  Remove tart from freezer and line with parchment paper and then pie weights.  Place on a sheet pan and bake for about 20 minutes.  Remove pie weights and parchment paper and continue baking until golden.  Let cool completely.

When ready to assemble tart, spread the pastry cream over bottom of tart shell.  Fill with seasonal berries.  Brush with melted and strained apricot jam if desired and serve.  Place any of the tart that happens to be remaining in the refrigerator.

Vanilla Pastry Cream
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Pinch kosher or sea salt
1 plump vanilla bean
3 tablespoons (3/4 ounce) cornstarch
1 large egg
3 large egg yolks
1 ½ pints fresh strawberries or other fresh fruit

Bring the milk, 1/4 cup of the sugar, butter, salt and vanilla bean to a gentle boil in a medium saucepan.  Remove from heat.

Whisk together the cornstarch and the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar.  Add the egg and yolks to the cornstarch and mix into a smooth paste.

Slowly, and in small amounts, whisk a little of the hot milk into the egg mixture.

This is called tempering the eggs, which you need to do to get them to the same temperature of the hot milk in the pan, so they won’t curdle.

Once the egg mixture is warm to the touch, pour it back into the milk in the pan.

Return the custard to the stove and bring to a boil, whisking continuously for 2 to 3 minutes.

The pastry cream will thicken almost immediately but it is important to cook out the starch (2 -3 minutes) so that it isn’t grainy and so your pastry cream won’t separate.   When the pastry cream is done it will be smooth and glossy.

Strain the pastry cream into a shallow container and refrigerate until ready to use.


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Strawberry and Rhubarb Tart with Brown Butter Streusel

David Schmit, Photographer

Photography by David Schmit

It is the height of rhubarb season in Minnesota.  I’ve already harvested the stalks (the leaves are poisonous) of this delectable vegetable four times from the six plants (yes – six) that Jon planted a couple of years ago and it’s only June 1st.

Unless you live in an apartment or have zero friends or neighbors, why would anyone need to purchase rhubarb?  It grows like a weed and should be harvested practically daily or it will flower and bolt (and I don’t mean run away, though some would like for it to do just that).  Nonetheless, I saw folks at the farmer’s market purchasing the stalks all morning.  You know that it is a must good if one must purchase something that is so prolific in these parts.

Regardless, of how you get your hands on a few stalks, grab a pint of strawberries as well and make this delicious early summer treat.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg yolk
3 to 4 tablespoons chilled cream

9 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup all purpose flour

2 1/2 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
2 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, washed, dried and quartered
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon zested lemon peel

For crust:
Blend flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor for about 5 seconds. Using on/off turns, cut in butter until it is about the size of peas.  Add egg yolk and 3 tablespoons of cream.

Blend just until moist clumps form, adding a titch more cream if dough seems too dry, but don’t be fooled and add too much.

After mixing the dough, turn it out onto a work surface.  Using the heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute the fat.   This is called, “to fraisage” in French.  Gather the dough and shape the dough into a flat disk, then double wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour before using.

Note:  Chilling tart or pie dough is very important, because it helps relax the gluten (protein) in the dough, making it less elastic when it is rolled out.  It also firms up the fat so less flour is necessary when rolling out the dough—too much flour can make the dough tough. The longer the dough is chilled, the easier it is to roll out.

Pie dough can be stored in the refrigerator up to four days or frozen up to three months. Frozen dough should to be defrosted in the refrigerator for several hours or even overnight.  If it’s still too hard to roll out, let the dough sit at room temperature until it becomes pliable.

When ready to make the tart shell, roll out the disk of dough to a 12-inch diameter.  Form it into a 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom to make the crust.  Freeze for an hour or two.  When ready to bake, pull the dough (still in the pan) out of the freezer and line the tart shell with parchment paper, add pie weights and bake for 2o minutes at 375°F.  Remove weights and paper and continue baking until tart shell is golden brown.

For streusel:
Cook the butter in in a large skillet over medium heat until golden, stirring often, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Mix in almonds, sugar, and cinnamon. Add flour and stir until moist clumps form. Cool completely.  (Crust and streusel can be made 1 day ahead. Cover separately and chill.)

For filling:
Preheat oven to 350°F.  Toss the rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, flour, and zested lemon peel in a bowl and gently mix together.  Let stand until filling looks moist, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.  Spoon filling into crust.  Crumble streusel evenly over the filling.

Bake until filling is bubbling and streusel is crisp and brown, about 1 hour.  Cool tart on rack 30 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  If you want to gild the lily, add a scoop of your favorite vanilla ice cream.

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Sour Cream Pound Cake

_MG_6458 Poundcake 2

There’s still enough time to make this cake for tomorrow’s Memorial Day cook-out.  It’s a variation of one that my grandmother would often bake when she knew we would be visiting.  She would make it in a bundt pan.  I can still remember the aroma as we scampered into their home in Jacksonville, Florida.

There is plenty of batter that I generally bake it in two loaf pans.  This time, however, I baked one of them in a loaf pan and another in one these paper baking molds.  I’ll be serving it with the Cake Diva’s homemade rhubarb sauce.

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional flour for dusting pans
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1/3 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, I used Kalona SuperNatural
3 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon pure almond extract
Zest of one medium orange
6 lg or 8 med eggs, room temperature
1 cup (1/2 pint) sour cream, room temperature, I used Kalona SuperNatural

Preheat oven to 325ºF.

Cakes can be made in one 16-cup tube pan or two 5-cup loaf pans.  Dust pan(s) with flour, tapping out excess or line with parchment paper, then set aside.

In a medium bowl, using a whisk, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and set aside.  Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat butter in large bowl at medium speed until fluffy.  Gradually add sugar and beat 5 minutes.  Add eggs 1 at a time, beating just until combined after each addition and scrape down bowl after addition. Stir in extracts and zest.

Mix ½ the sour cream into the batter and stir until combined.  Then add ½ the flour and stir just until combined.  Repeat with the remaining sour cream and end with the remaining flour, mixing each again separately just until combined. Transfer batter to prepared pan(s).

Bake cake until tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 1 hour 20 minutes.  Let cake cool in pan on rack 15 minutes. Cut around cake in pan and carefully turn out onto cooling rack and cool completely.

(Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Wrap in foil and let stand at room temperature.)  Cake is better if made a day before serving.

One loaf serves 10-12, or more or less depending on the thickness of the serving.

_MG_6464 Poundcake Cutting

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