Praline Lyonnaise Shortbread

On a recent trip to Lyon I fell for its regions’ specialty; Praline Lyonnaise.  As usual, I thought why purchase something that I can learn to make plus I didn’t want to lug it home.

Once home I got to work perfecting this beautiful pink almond confection. Consequently, I made multiple test batches.

Praline Lyonnaise is not only enjoyed out of hand it is often included in brioche or as the central ingredient in a tart. However, I hadn’t come across it as part of a cookie, so I figured why not? I had more than enough with which to experiment. The recipe can easily be cut in half.

I included a wedge of this delicous cookie as part of a recent dessert. Every ingredient can be made ahead: Rose Praline Lyonnaise, Red Wine Poached Pears, Vanilla Bean Mascarpone Ice cream, and this shortbread.

David Schmit Photography

2 cups (9 oz /255 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 ounces (6 tablespoons) semolina flour
1/2 cup (4 oz / 115 g) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup (8 oz / 227 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Scant 2/3 cup (3 ½ oz 80 g) chopped praline Lyonnais

Butter the bottom of 2 – 9 x 2-inch cake pans and line each with a round of parchment paper. Or use 2 – 9 x 2-inch adjustable cake rings set on a parchment lined sheet pan. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment mix together flour, semolina, sugar and salt.  Add butter pieces and mix on medium speed just until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the vanilla extract and pralines and mix just until incorporated. Note that you are not making an homogenized dough but only a crumbly mixture.

Divide mixture in half and press into the prepared pans. Carefully prick all over with a fork. Refrigerate for an hour or even overnight. Bake in a preheated 325° oven for 25 – 30 minutes or until barely golden brown. Cool slightly.

If using cake pans place a cooling rack over the pan and tip, removing the parchment paper. Place a cutting board on the cookie and flip back over.  If using cake rings simply expand ring and remove.

Using a serrated knife cut into wedges of desired size while still warm. The longer the shortbread cools the crumblier it becomes when cut. Let cool completely before serving.


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Mascarpone Ice Cream

There’s a lot of ice cream recipes floating around the inter-webs.  I found however, that evenly splitting the cream to milk ratio gives a delicate mouth feel because the mascarpone in this reicpe has such a high fat content, especially if made from scratch with the recipe that’s here.

There’s always the option too, of using 2 cups of cream and 1 cup of whole milk. Whatever you do, don’t use anything less than whole milk and preferably use organic.

This scoop of Mascarpone Ice cream was part of a dessert comprising of red wine poached pears and praline Lyonneaise shortbread.

David Schmit Photography

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup vanilla sugar*
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
5 large egg yolks
1 cup (8 oz) mascarpone cheese, preferably homemade
Zest of 1 lemon, optional

Prepare an ice bath by placing ice and cold water in a large bowl. Set a smaller bowl in the ice water. Set a fine mesh strainer in the smaller bowl.  Set it all aside.

Heat the cream, milk, sugars, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Meanwhile, in a large bowl whisk the egg yolks.  Slowly whisk half of the warm cream mixture into the egg yolks. (This is called “tempering” the eggs. You want to slowly add the hot mixture to gradually raise the temperature of the egg yolks otherwise you may end up with scrambled eggs.)

Return the egg-cream mixture to the rest of the cream in the saucepan. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the custard has thickened enough so that it coats the back of a spoon and holds a line drawn with your finger, about 5 minutes or about 170 degree F. (The texture of the custard is called “nappé” when it reaches this stage.)

Immediately pour through the fine mesh strainer into the container set inside the prepared ice bath.  Remove the strainer and whisk in the mascarpone cheese and lemon zest (if adding). 

Let the custard cool, stirring frequently, for about 30 minutes. Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard and set it in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or ideally overnight.

Once the custard is cold, transfer the ice cream base to an ice cream machine and churn per the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the ice cream to another container and freeze.

*If you don’t have vanilla sugar just use 3/4 cup total of granulated sugar with 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or the seeds of one pliable vanilla bean.

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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 silacone mat lined sheet pan. Set the nuts aside and save any of the pink sugar.

Clean 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 the silicone mat lined sheet pan. 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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