Homemade Mascarpone

The beauty of making food from scratch is that you know exactly what’s in it. And, you have a better chance of knowing from where the raw ingredients are sourced. You are able to seek out local producers, for example, of eggs, vegetables, fruit, sources of protein, and dairy products.

This is exactly the reason that I make mascarpone with only two required ingredients; organic heavy cream and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Yes, it takes time but the majority of that time is unattended. And, yes you have to plan ahead if you want to make that tart with a mascarpone cream topped with fresh fruit.

Adapted from a dozen sources.
Yields about 1 1/2 cups

4 cups heavy cream, pasteurized (but not ultra-pasteurized)
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed

In a large saucepan, heat heavy cream over medium high heat, stirring constantly until a candy thermometer reads 190°F. The cream should be just at a simmer. Stir in the lemon juice and continue to keep the heat at 190°F or as close as possible for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

The cream should thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature, about 30 to 45 minutes. Place in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, place a strainer lined with 4 layers of cheesecloth over an empty bowl. Pour the cream into the cheesecloth, cover with plastic wrap, and place back in the refrigerator.

Allow the cream to drain for 8-12 hours, or preferably overnight. When the mascarpone has finished draining, discard the whey and transfer the cheese to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator. Use fresh mascarpone cheese within the week.

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Rose Praline Lyonnaise

Although the orgins of this candy is a bit of a mystery, little gift bags of neon pink sugar-coated almonds are displayed in the pâtisseries throughout Lyon. They are also incorporated into tarte aux pralines (2nd from the right), pastries and breads in this beautiful city.

They come in 3 ratios of almonds to sugar – 20, 30 or 50%. The recipe below is the 50% version meaning 8 ounces of almonds to 16 ounces of sugar. With  this ratio you can scale the recipe up or down depending on how many candies you want to make.

8 ounces (250 g) whole unblanced almonds
1 pound (450 g) granulated sugar (divided into thirds)
1 teaspoon orange blossom water (per 4 oz almonds)
1/2 cup water (divided into thirds)
Red food coloring

After each stage, all utensils and pans should be cleaned to avoid premature syrup crystallization. To do this fast, fill pans with water, cover and bring to a boil and set to a simmer for about 15 minutes or so.

To Make:
In a sauté or frying pan, place one-third of the water (1.5oz / 40ml) and sugar (3oz / 150g). Add a few drops of red coloring. Bring to a boil. When large bubbles begin forming, carefully add the almonds stirring constantly and shaking the pan. Add the orange flower water. The syrup will begin to crystallize; keep stirring so that the nuts are well coated in sugar.

At some point, some of the sugar will no longer adhere to the nuts, and it looks like powdered pink sugar. Allow it to melt slightly so that it coats the nuts again. Transfer the contents of the pan onto a baking tray lined with a silicone mat. Set the nuts aside and save any of the pink sugar.

Clean up all utensils and pans. Place the remaining pink sugar in a saucepan and add the second-third of the sugar and water. Add a couple of drops of red food coloring if necessary. Bring to a boil and continue to cook until temperature reaches 255ºF (124ºC) and if necessary washing down the sides of the pan with a pastry brusk dipped in a bit of water to prevent premature crystalization.

When the syrup is almost at the desired temperature, switch on the burner below a clean pan and add nuts. Pour the syrup over the nuts, stirring as you pour. Coat the almonds well on high heat. The syrup will once again begin to cristalize. Lower the heat if necessary. Allow the sugar that does not coat the almonds to melt; continue stirring. Do not over cook.

Transfer the contents of the pan onto a baking tray lined with the silicone mat. Set the nuts aside and save remaining pink sugar. Repeat the last step one more time with the remaining water and sugar.

Preheat oven to 160°F (70°C) and dry out the pink praline for about 50 minutes. 

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Herbes de Provence Crackers

The Holidays are upon us and this means it’s time to party.  These crackers can be made ahead and stored in an air-tight container until ready to enjoy during your next fête.

If you don’t have herbes de Provence, feel free to sprinkle with any dried herb or crushed spices, like cumin, coriander or even just freshly ground black pepper.

David Schmit Photography

2 cups (9 oz / 255 g) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 tablespoon poppyseeds
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing
½ cup water, room temperature
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence, or more to taste
Fine sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Set a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees F. In the bowl of a food processor using the metal “S” blade blend together flour, poppyseeds, and sugar by pulsing a couple of times.

Turn off the motor and the pour oil around the parameter of the bowl. Pulse a few times to combine the oil. Turn off motor and using a rubber spatula mound the mixture towards the center of the bowl. Pour water around the parameter and run the machine until the mixture forms a ball.

Remove dough from the bowl and cut into 4 parts, each weighing roughly 110 g or 3-3/4 ounces. Form each piece of dough into a disk and set aside. On a floured surface roll out each into a rectangle about 10 x 15-inches.

Transfer each piece to a separate parchment lined baking sheet. Brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with herbes de Provence, salt, and pepper. Cover with another piece of parchment paper and set another baking sheet on top. (This prevents the crackers from forming large air bubbles.)

Bake for 7 – 8 minutes then remove the top baking sheet and continue baking until the cracker is golden brown around the edges. Let cool completely, break into pieces and store in a airtight container until ready to serve.

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Tarte Normande or Apple Custard Tart

We are in the midst of apple season and though I often make apple galettes and apple tarts, I wanted to kick it up a notch.

Instead of rolling out the dough I wanted to try my hand at a press-in dough. I started by tweaking the amount of butter and flour. I was aiming for enough dough to easily press into the tart pan but not so much that the crust would be too thick. 

After tackling that detail it was on to the amount of cream needed which I deduced depends on how tightly you pack the apple slices. My next test will be adding almond flour either sprinkled on the bottom of the tart dough before arranging the apple slices or mixed into the custard batter.

Someone also suggested adding a bit of lemon zest to brighten up the apples; which I did in one test and they were correct. I doubt you would find lemon zest as part of a Tarte Normande in any French Patisserie. Luckily, I’m not bound to strict French pastry traditions, though some may disagree.

David Schmit Photography

For tart dough:
8 tablespoons (4 oz / 110 g) unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
1/4 cup (1.75 oz / 50 g) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cup (5.75 oz / 160 g) unbleached all-purpose flour

For filling:
3 – 4 medium apples
2 large eggs
½ cup (3.5 oz / 100 g) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons raw can sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch kosher salt
3/4 – 1 cup (190 – 200 ml) heavy cream
50 g ground almonds (optional)
2 1/2 tablespoons calvados (optional)
Zest of 1 lemon, preferably organic (optional)
Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment mix together the butter, sugar, and salt on low-to-medium speed, until combined, about 1 minute. (Do not whip as you don’t want to incorporate air into the dough.) Add the egg yolk and mix on low speed for 30 seconds. 

Mix in the floor on low speed, until the dough comes together. If necessary, add a sprinkle of water if the dough feels too dry. Don’t over-mix it, even finishing with your hand if necessary. Pinch the mixture with your fingers to verify that it will hold together when pressed in to the tart pan.

Set a 9-inch (23 cm) removable bottom tart pan on a parchment lined 1/2 sheet pan. Scatter the pieces of dough in the pan. Using your fingers press the dough across the bottom and up the sides of the pan, getting it as even as possible. Freeze the unbaked tart shell until ready to use.

To bake the tart, preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Peel (or not) and core the apples, and cut them in eighths. Place the slices in concentric circles or decorative pattern in the unbaked tart shell.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, granulated sugar, vanilla extract, salt, and if including, the ground almonds, zest, and calvados. Add heavy cream and whisk until smooth.

Pour the filling over the apples in the tart dough. Sprinkle the top with 2 tablespoons of raw cane sugar. Bake the tart until deep golden brown on top, about 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack.

Just before serving, if you desire, add a dusting of powdered sugar. Normally tarts like this are served on their own but you can gild the lily with a dollop of whipped cream or scoop of ice cream.

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Toasted Almond Gelato

What’s the difference between gelato and ice cream? Gelato tends to be smoother and silkier. It contains more milk than cream, if any, and doesn’t contain egg yolks.  It’s also creamier and more dense as the dasher spins at a slower speed, thus creating less air.

I’ve read that if you have the patience  you should serve gelato about 10 to 15 degrees warmer than American ice cream, or at about 7 to 12 degrees F.  That way your mouth is less numb and better able to taste it.

This recipe is a riff on one that I learned from Zoë François now too many years ago to count. Because the almonds are steeped in the milk and cooled, then the milk is heated again, this is a two day process, but largely unattended.

2 cups (5 oz) blanched, whole almonds
4  – 6 cups whole milk, preferably organic
1 cup (7 oz / 200 g) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (1 ¾ oz / 50 g) cornstarch
Pinch of kosher salt
1 plump vanilla bean, split
1 bay laurel leaf (optional)
? teaspoon pure almond extract

Set the oven to 375 degrees F. Spread the almonds on a sheet-pan and toast until golden brown and fragrant; about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and add to a medium saucepan along with the milk and bay leaf (if using); bring to a boil. Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl and allow to cool. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to proceed with the recipe, strain mixture thorugh a fine mesh sieve, pressing almonds with a spoon and reserving for another use.* The almond flavored milk should measure 4 cups. If it doesn’t add enough to equal that amount and set aside.

In a medium saucepan bring 3 ½ cups of the almond flavored milk along with the sugar to a low boil. While the milk is heating, in a small bowl dissolve the cornstarch in remaining ½ cup milk. Stir cornstarch mixture into the milk mixture and cook in medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened, about 10 – 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in almond extract. Transfer to a bowl to cool; cover and refrigerate overnight.

If the mixture has separated use a whisk to bring it back together and process in an ice cream machine folllowing the manufacture’s directions. Serve it in a bowl or as part of an ice cream sandwich using your favorite cookie.

*I poured the almonds in the sieve and rinsed them under cold water. Then I put them back on the sheet pan in a 200 degree oven to dry them. 

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Chocolate Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich

The cake-like chocolate cookie for this ice cream sandwich was inspired by a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, except I didn’t want to use the canned chocolate syrup they suggested so I manipulated the recipe to prevent that need.

Also, baking one time their recipe didn’t produce a thick enough cookie for my taste. The next time I doubled the cookie recipe, which was then too thick.  For the third test, I made it 1 1/3 times the amount which was too thin.  Therefore, I landed on 1 1/2 times the recipe which is what is listed below.

Also the original recipe had the cookies cut into rounds. That seemed like too much waste, so I cut mine into squares and filled them with a no-churn toasted coconut ice cream.

12 tablespoons (6 oz / 170 g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 ½ oz (128 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups (7 ½ oz / 215 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cup (2 ¼ oz / 60 g) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup (7 oz / 200 g) granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 12 x 17-inch jelly roll pan. Line with parchment paper. (There’s no need to butter the paper.) Set aside.

Melt butter and chocolate in a medium bowl over a pan of barely simmering water (aka ban-marie or hot water bath). Remove from heat and stir in salt, water, and vanilla extract. Set aside.

While chocolate/butter mixture is melting, set a seive over a medium bowl and sift together flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda. Set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together eggs and sugar. Whisk in melted chocolate/butter mixture.  Using a large rubber spatula fold in dry ingredients. 

Using a large offset spatula spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Place on lower third of the pre-heated oven and bake for 10 – 14 minutes, or until the cookie springs back when lightly touched with your finger.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Cut around the edges of the pan to loosen the cookie. Set another sheet pan on top and flip over to release it. Divide cookie into two pieces.

Slice your favorite ice cream into ¼-inch slices and line one half of the cookie with the slices. (See Toasted Coconut Ice Cream recipe.) Set the other half of the cookie on top and cut the “sandwich” into 16 squares. Return them to the parchment lined sheet pan to refreeze.  Remove from the freezer and wrap each in waxed paper and then in aluminum foil. Return to the freezer but serve within a week.

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No-churn Toasted Coconut Ice Cream

David Schmit Photography

I love coconut in any form and was craving toasted coconut ice cream. I think it was because I chose the salted caramel ice cream at the local ice cream shoppe recently instead of the coconut. I also wanted to avoid using coconut extract; even if it was pure. I went about toasting unsweetend coconut flakes and then infusing it in heavy cream. The coconut, however, absorbed half of the cream.

For the next test I doubled the amount of cream. After straining I ended up with the 2 cups of cream needed. But now I had two cups of soggy coconut that I didn’t want toss.  Instead, I put it in a sieve, rinsed it and spread it on a sheet pan to dry in a 200 degree F oven. It worked like a charm. I’ll sprinkle it on yogurt, berries, fold into cookie dough, or use it in any number of other recipes.

You can skip the entire coconut process and just make vanilla; in which  case only use 2 cups of cream.  Either way the results are delicious.

2 cups (5 ounces) unsweetened cococut flakes, toasted
4 cups cold heavy cream, preferably organic (use 2 cups if skipping the coconut infusion)
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, scraped
½ cup fruity extra virgin olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 375 degree F. Spread coconut flakes on a sheet pan and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes or until golden. While the coconut is toasting bring the cream to a simmer. As soon as the coconut is toasted pour it into the cream and remove from heat. Allow to cool, then place in the refrigerator overnight.

When ready to proceed; line a loaf pan with plastic wrap (not shown) and set aside. Strain, discarding the coconut or follow the head-notes for other options. The remaining cream should measure 2 cups.  If not, top it off to equal two cups.

In the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment, beat cream on high speed until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes.

While the cream is whipping stir together condensed milk, vanilla, vanilla bean seeds, and olive oil in a large bowl. With a rubber spatula, gently fold one-third of the whipped cream into the condensed milk mixture and stir until combined. Fold in the remaining cream and pour into prepared loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer at least 6 hours or better yet overnight.

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Homemade Bagels

David Schmit Photography

I’m among the ranks of bagel lovers that lament over the difficulty of finding one that is chewy on the outside yet has a soft, substantial crumb. Therefore, on a recent trip to a friend’s cabin I lugged Chef Peter Reinhart’s book The Bread Baker’s Apprentice with me to see if I could master them myself.

Between his book and my year’s assisting Solveig Tofte when she taught cooking classes, I felt I could tackle making them without too much difficulty. It’s easier than I thought and the twenty minutes of kneading by hand was a great upper body workout. (I didn’t have access to a heavy-duty stand mixer.) For the the second, third, and fourth batch I used a stand mixer with the dough cook and let it run for 8 minutes This was followed by another 5 minutes of kneading by hand.

Yes, the recipe is long but Reinhart’s introduction to making bagels is even longer. However, he gives you a thorough explanation of the entire process. It takes time, but most of that time is unattended.

After making the recipe 4 times there’s a few things I’ve learned. I don’t like adding honey to the dough nor to the water in which they are boiled as some recipes suggest. I didn’t notice any change to the taste and the sugar caramelized the appearance of them too much for my taste. Also, carefully lift the bagels from the pan on which they were proofing and gently add them  into the boiling water with stretching the them. Otherwise, you’ll end up with something flat, but which still tastes good.

Yield: 12 large, 16 medium or 24 miniature bagels

1 teaspoon instant yeast
4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour (see note below)
2 1/2 cups water, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
3 3/4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons malt powder or 1 tablespoon dark or light malt syrup, honey, or brown sugar (Bret’s note: I didn’t add any of these ingredients.)

To Finish
1 tablespoon baking soda
Cornmeal or semolina flour for dusting (Bret’s note:  I didn’t use either but instead lined the baking pans with a silpat brushed with a little olive oil for good measure.

Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, rehydrated dried minced garlic or onions, garlic powder (Bret’s note: as well as large salt crystals, any combination, or a bit of them all for an everything bagel.)

Day one:
To make the sponge, stir the yeast into the flour in a 4-quart mixing bowl. Add the water, whisking or stirring only until it forms a smooth, sticky batter (like pancake batter). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the mixture becomes very foamy and bubbly. It should swell to nearly double in size and collapse when the bowl is tapped on the countertop.

To make the dough, in the same mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer), add the additional yeast to the sponge and stir. Then add 3 cups of the flour and all of the salt and malt. Stir (or mix on low speed with the dough hook) until the ingredients for a ball, slowly working in the remaining 3/4 cup flour to stiffen the dough.

Transfer the dough to the counter and knead for at least 10 minutes (Bret’s note: or more like 20 minutes) (or for 6 minutes by machine). The dough should be firm, stiffer than French bread dough, but still pliable and smooth. There should be no raw flour – all ingredients should be hydrated.

The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 71 to 77 degrees F. (Bret’s note: I didn’t take the dough’s temperature.) If the dough seems to dry and rips, add a few drops of water and continue kneading. If the dough seems tacky or sticky, add more flour to achieve the stiffness required. The kneaded dough should feel satiny and pliable but not be tacky.

Immediately divide the dough into 4.50 ounce pieces for standard bagels, 3.25 ounce each for medium or 2.25 ounce for smaller ones. Cover the rolls with a damp towel and allow them to rest for approximately 20 minutes.

Line 2 sheet pans with baking parchment and mist lightly or with spray oil. (Bret’s note:  I brushed with olive oil.) Proceed with one of the following shaping methods:

Method 1: (Bret’s note:  I used this method.) Poke a hole in a ball of bagel dough and gently rotate your thumb around the inside of the hole to widen it to approximately 2 1/2 inches in diameter (half of this for a mini-bagel). (Bret’s note:  I eye-balled it.) The dough should be as evenly stretched as possible (try to avoid thick and thin spots.)

Method 2: Roll out the dough into an 8-inch long rope. (This may require rolling part of the way and resting if the pieces are too elastic and snap back, in which case, allow them to rest for 3 minutes and then extend them again to bring to full length. Wrap the dough around the palm and back of your hand, between the thumb and forefinger, overlapping the ends by several inches. Press the overlapping ends on the counter with the palm of your hand, rocking back and forth to seal.

Place each of the shaped pieces 2 inches apart on the pans (Bret’s note: I got away with a 1-inch space between each one). Mist the bagels very lightly with the spray oil and slip each pan into a food-grade plastic bag, or cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the pans sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes. (Bret’s note: I skipped misting with oil and just loosely covered with plastic wrap.)

Check to see if the bagels are ready to be retarded in the refrigerator by using the “float test”. Fill a small bowl with cool or room-temperature water. The bagels are ready to be retarded when they float within 10 seconds of being dropped into the water. Take one bagel and test it. If it floats, immediately return the tester bagel to the pan, pat it dry, cover the pan, and place it in the refrigerator overnight (it can stay in the refrigerator for up to 2 days).

If the bagel does not float. Return it to the pan and continue to proof the dough at room temperature, checking back every 10 to 20 minutes or so until a tester floats. The time needed to accomplish the float will vary, depending on the ambient temperature and the stiffness of the dough.

The following day (or when you are ready to bake the bagels), preheat the oven to 500 degrees F with the two racks set in the middle of the oven. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (the wider the pot the better), and add the baking soda (and optionally, a few tablespoons of barley syrup). Have a slotted spoon or skimmer nearby.

Remove the bagels from the refrigerator and gently drop them into the water, boiling only as many as comfortably fit (they should float within 10 seconds). After 1 minute flip them over and boil for another minute. If you like very chewy bagels, you can extend the boiling to 2 minutes per side (Bret’s note: I used the 2 minute option).

Ready for the oven
David Schmit Photography

While the bagels are boiling, sprinkle the same parchment-lined sheet pans with cornmeal or semolina flour. (If you decide to replace the paper, be sure to spray the new paper lightly with spray oil to prevent the bagels from sticking to the surface.) (Bret’s note:  I skipped the cornmeal and used the same parchment paper.) If you want to top (see note below) the bagels, do so as soon as they come out of the water. You can use any of the suggestions in the ingredients list or a combination.

When all the bagels have been boiled, place the pans on the 2 middle shelves in the oven. Bake for approximately 5 minutes, then rotate the pans, switching shelves and giving the pans a 180-degree rotation. (If you are baking only 1 pan, keep it on the center shelf but still rotate 180 degrees.) After the rotation, lower the oven setting to 450 degrees F and continue baking for about 5 minutes, or until the bagels turn light golden brown. You may bake them darker if you prefer. (Bret’s note: I actually baked them quite a bit longer, often almost ten extra minutes. I judge by color, not internal temperature, in this case.)

Remove the pans from the oven and let the bagels cool on a rack for 15 minutes or longer before serving.

Cinnamon Raisin Bagels: For cinnamon raisin bagels, increase the yeast in the final dough to 1 teaspoon, and add 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon and 5 tablespoons of granulated sugar to the final dough. Rinse 2 cups of loosely packed raisins with warm water to wash off surface sugar, acid, and natural wild yeast. Add the raisins during the final 2 minutes of mixing. Proceed as directed, but do not top the bagels with any garnishes. When they come out of the oven and are still hot, you can brush the tops with melted butter and dip them in cinnamon sugar to create a cinnamon-sugar crust, if desired.

David Schmit Photography

Serve with a smear of cream cheese, sprinkled with diced red onions, capers, and a couple of slices of lox.

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