Two Terrific Tarts: Chocolate and Raspberry Cream Cheese

You may have realized by now that I’m prone to bouts of exuberance over kitchen achievements. There’s something about tackling a recipe you’re inexperienced with, doing some kitchen acrobatics, and actually succeeding that just brightens the whole week. After crossing puff pastry off my to-bake list, my next goal was a tart. Ohhhh, tarts. They’re so gorgeous — those lovely scalloped edges; dense, golden brown shells; and artfully arranged fillings. I’d never tasted a homemade tart before, so I didn’t even realize that in addition to being beautiful, they’re also heavenly and scrumptious. I definitely found a new favorite dessert, and around this apartment, that’s saying a lot!



I decided on a Chocolate Tart and a Raspberry Cream Cheese Tart for my adventure. Both tarts use the same tart dough, a version of pâte sucrée from Tyler Florence. Pâte sucrée, also called “sweet dough,” is popular for dessert tarts, whereas it’s sibling, pâte brisée (“short dough”) is widely used for both dessert and savory tarts.

Pâte sucrée is apparently notoriously difficult to roll, and after trying once, I decided not to bother. Martha Stewart recommends (and she makes it looks very easy, of course) grating the chilled dough into your tart pan and gently pressing it into place. I found my dough too soft for this (even after freezing). In fact, when I pressed the dough against the grater, it gave way and I sliced my pinky on my tart pan — they’re not kidding when they say those edges are sharp! It’ll come as no surprise that after almost slicing off a finger, I only grated some of my dough. I tore the rest of it into smaller pieces and pressed them into the pan. After this struggle, I found the perfect technique: simply don’t let the dough come together in a ball in the food processor, but stop processing while it’s still in large crumbly pieces. Then pour these pieces into your tart pan and press them out. Perfect, easy, safe. Watch your fingers!

Once in the pan, the tart dough is chilled and blind-baked into a delicious, buttery crust. You end up with a dense but flaky, beautiful edge surrounding whatever sumptuous filling you choose. Want to know which of these two tarts I think you should make? Follow me on a little tangent . . .

I’m addicted to rating things. I’m always creating arbitrary rating scales in my head for movies, outfits, books, restaurants, nail polish colors . . . the list goes on! After eating a meal, I can instantly rank every component on the plate from favorite to least favorite, and am appalled when Mike can’t do the same (this often results in a conversation about my brain being weird).

In fact, you know the little clicky stars for rating things on Goodreads and Netflix? I love those! I wish there were little rating stars floating around in real life; imagine the rating convenience! You could walk around and poke at the stars next to stores, food, people . . . okay, maybe rating people isn’t the best idea. Yikes! At any rate (ha ha), despite the fact that Mike thinks it’s weird, I love to rate. But why am I telling you all this? Here’s why: I want you to know how impressive it is that I cannot decide which one of these amazing tarts I like the best. They’re very different flavors, and both so indulgent and delicious — I just can’t choose! Hopefully this is all the persuading you need to make both of them. You know you want to!

The Chocolate Tart is rich, decadent, and fudgy. The original recipe actually doesn’t include the mounds of fluffy whipped cream, but I knew we’d need more than just the crust to cut the richness of the filling. I have trouble believing even the biggest chocoholic could eat a piece of this tart without a pile of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Then again, maybe other folks don’t eat a gigantic slab o’ tart like I do (I don’t have the restraint to do slivers, y’all). Regardless, the balance here of the chocolate with the whipped cream topping was perfect — and beautiful.

I picked the raspberry tart because I love combining raspberries with mellow cheeses: brie, ricotta, and (obviously) cream cheese. The tart berries in the luxurious, sweet cream cheese were the perfect flavors to pile into my fancy rectangular (!) tart crust once it was cooled from the oven. (Can you tell I’m excited about this tart being a gigantic rectangle? Oh, how I love Williams-Sonoma! I should’ve taken a fan-girl picture with the sales associate that recommended the rectangular pan. Do you think that would’ve seemed creepy? Nah, I’m sure she gets it all the time.) Anyway, once baked, each little raspberry peeks up from its creamy bed just begging to be slathered with whipped cream and devoured. Of course, Mike and I were willing to oblige.

Both of these tarts were so fantastic that I know you’re going to love them. If you don’t own a tart pan, pick one up — mine was only $9 even at fancy Williams-Sonoma, a price well worth the beauty and enjoyment a tart brings. Then roll up your sleeves and create a beautiful dessert.

Chocolate Whipped Cream Tart



Recipe by: Tyler Florence (adapted by me)
Yields: one standard tart, serves about 10

Tart Shell Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and chopped
1 large egg, separated
2 tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed

Filling Ingredients:
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
10 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature

Whipped Cream Topping Ingredients:
2 cups heavy cream
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
To make the pastry: combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl (or food processor). Add the butter and mix with a processor or hands until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the middle of the pastry. Combine the egg yolk with the ice water in a small bowl, whisking to blend; pour it into the well and work it in to bind the dough until it holds together without being too wet or sticky. Squeeze a small amount together, if it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. When the dough is coming together but still in crumbs, pour the crumbs into your tart pan and press them out to fill the pan. Press them up the sides evenly and trim off any excess. Dock the dough (prick it slightly) with a fork all over. Put the tart shell in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes to relax.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the tart pan on a sturdy cookie sheet so it will be easy to move in and out of the oven. Line the tart with aluminum foil and add pie weights or dried beans to keep the sides of the tart from buckling. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and weights. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the crust with a beaten egg white. Return to the oven and continue to bake for another 8 minutes until the tart is golden in color, but not brown. Remember the tart will be cooked again with the filling. It should be cooked but light in color so that it will not burn on the second bake. Set aside to cool and lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

To make the filling: Heat the heavy cream and milk in a pot over medium-low flame, until it simmers slightly around the edges. Remove from the heat; add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smoothed out. Add the sugar and salt and whisk until well incorporated. Beat the eggs in a small bowl until blended and add them to the chocolate mixture, stir until completely blended. Pour the filling into the cooled tart shell and bake at 325 degrees F for 15 to 20 minutes until the filling is set (wiggle the pan to test) and the surface is glossy. If you see any bubbles or cracks forming on the surface, take the tart out right away – that means it is beginning to become over baked. Cool completely before topping with whipped cream.

To make the whipped cream, beat all ingredients together until cream thickens to correct consistency. Pile the mound of whipped cream onto your cooled tart and use a spatula to spread it (messy = more rustic). Shave some leftover chocolate over the cream for decoration.


Raspberry Cream Cheese Tart still cooling in its pan.

Raspberry Cream Cheese Tart



Recipe by: Joy of Baking (with crust by Tyler Florence)
Yields: one standard tart, serves about 10

Tart Shell Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and chopped
1 large egg, separated
2 tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed

Filling Ingredients:
4 ounces (125 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup (180 ml) light cream or half-and-half (coffee cream)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
zest of 1 medium lemon or lime (I used just a spritz of lemon juice)
1 – 1 1/2 cups (110 – 165 grams) fresh raspberries

Whipped Cream Ingredients:
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
To make the pastry: combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl (or food processor). Add the butter and mix with a processor or hands until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the middle of the pastry. Combine the egg yolk with the ice water in a small bowl, whisking to blend; pour it into the well and work it in to bind the dough until it holds together without being too wet or sticky. Squeeze a small amount together, if it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Form the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic; refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out the pastry* on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch circle, about 1/4-inch thick. Carefully roll the dough up onto the pin (this may take a little practice) and lay it inside a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough into the pan so it fits tightly; press the edges into the sides of the pan. It is important to press the dough evenly into every nook and corner of the ring, especially the scalloped edges. Shave off the excess hanging dough with a knife. Dock the dough (prick it slightly) with a fork all over. Put the tart in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to relax.

*Note: As mentioned above, I found it very difficult to roll the dough, and instead carefully grated as much chilled dough as possible into the pan, tearing the rest. I then pressed it into all areas of the pan, being absolutely sure it covered every surface.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the tart pan on a sturdy cookie sheet so it will be easy to move in and out of the oven. Line the tart with aluminum foil and add pie weights or dried beans to keep the sides of the tart from buckling. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and weights. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the crust with a beaten egg white. Return to the oven and continue to bake for another 8 minutes until the tart is golden in color, but not brown. Remember the tart will be cooked again with the filling. It should be cooked but light in color so that it will not burn on the second bake. Set aside to cool.

To make the filling: In a food processor or electric mixer place the cream cheese and process until smooth. Add sugar and beat until incorporated. Add eggs, one at a time, and process until thoroughly combined. Add remaining ingredients and beat until well blended and smooth.

Place the tart pan on a larger baking pan. Carefully pour the filling into the pre-baked tart shell. Arrange the raspberries evenly around the tart shell and then bake the tart for about 30 – 35 minutes or until the filling is set (test by gently shaking the pan). Transfer tart to wire rack to cool. Serve warm or cold accompanied by softly whipped cream and fresh raspberries. Refrigerate leftovers.


Off to Williams-Sonoma for some tart pan shopping!


Grating and docking the tart dough (and trying not to lose any digits).



Blind baking the crust with beans as weights.



Raspberry Cream Cheese Tart baking and fresh from the oven.



Chocolate Tart cooling, and then getting the whipped cream treatment.

Want to read more about crusts? My article, “Journey Towards a Perfect Crust,” chronicles my quest for buttery, flaky pies and tarts. Read it at The Daring Kitchen.

Jack-o’-Lantern Whoopie Pies

I love how the vibrant online community of food blogs has erupted into autumnal flavors. A flickering fireplace on a chilly day has nothing on the cinnamon-and-spice glow of recipes flickering across my computer screen. The latter keeps not my toes but my tastebuds warm and cozy. Okay, okay, I’ll admit we haven’t had much need of it lately in Charlotte. The South still can’t make up its mind about the season, so temperatures have been in the 80s the past few days! Sorry to those in New England who are grumbling a bit right now. Soon enough, the chill will settle into North Carolina. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy fall flavors without the appropriate meteorological accoutrement.

My friend Katie and I had a date to bake together last weekend, and I was thrilled to hear that she was craving pumpkin just like I was. You may have heard about the pumpkin shortage, but thankfully I’d stocked up on a few cans of pumpkin before even hearing about it! So Katie and I brainstormed via email and decided to use our scarce squash to bake these gorgeous pumpkin whoopie pies. The recipe is from Matt Lewis of Baked bakery in New York City.

I’m a huge whoopie pie fan. My mom makes traditional whoopie pies each Thanksgiving and the rich, cakey chocolate and cream combination is something I look forward to all year. Imagine that same extremely moist, cakey texture with a beautiful pumpkin spice flavor instead: rich, dark brown sugar; ginger; ground cloves; and cinnamon. The result is a darker than average, plump pie that when slathered with sweet cream cheese spread, is the perfect fall bite.

This is also the perfect recipe for cooking in partners. Katie measured out dry ingredients while I whisked pumpkin and sugars together. We found that she (with previous ice cream shop experience) was an expert cookie scooper — wonderful, especially since I quickly realized I was lousy at it!


Katie showing off her scooping skills.

I went behind her and sculpted batter in the shape of pumpkin stems on each pie in hopes that they’d look like little pumpkins after baking. Sometimes this worked beautifully. Sometimes we ended up with whoopie pies shaped like triangles, snowmen, or the state of Idaho. It was a cute little Idahoan whoopie pie, don’t get me wrong, but the pumpkins were cuter:

After seeing Bakerella’s cute twist on her pumpkin pie bites (Jack-o’-lantern faces drawn on in chocolate), I knew I wanted to try faces on our whoopie pies. Katie piped cream cheese filling into each sandwich while I melted up some Candiquik (any chocolate candy melt will do) and set to work. When finished, the faces were adorable — but a little hard to see against the dark whoopie pies! Perhaps using light brown sugar in the pies would make the faces stand out more, but then you’d lose a bit of that great molasses flavor. Use your personal tastebuds and aesthetic to decide!


Katie doing some fantastic filling.


Jack-o’-lantern face!

One thing I didn’t anticipate was how good chocolate and pumpkin taste together! Y’all already knew this, didn’t you?! Why didn’t anyone tell me?! The richness of the milk chocolate was a perfect partner to the spicy pumpkin flavor, and I’ve even been inspired to search for more recipes that use this combination. Give it a try if you haven’t already!

There are so many satisfying facets of these whoopie pies: the simple recipe, the deep and indulgent fall taste, the cute Jack-o’-lantern grins. The most satisfying part, though, was definitely the time spent baking with a friend. I hope you’ll invite a friend over (or maybe just invite a husband, wife, son, or daughter into the kitchen) to help you make some of these sweet pun’kins!

Jack-o’-Lantern Whoopie Pies
Recipe by: Matt Lewis of Baked Bakery (adapted slightly by me)
Yields: 24 medium whoopie pies or about 34 small-scoop whoopie pies


Pumpkin Whoopie Pie Ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cloves
2 cups firmly packed dark-brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 cups pumpkin puree, chilled (chilling ensures pies won’t spread too much)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Cream Cheese Filling Ingredients:
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
melted chocolate for piping on Jack-o’-Lantern faces


Directions:
1. Make the cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat; set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves; set aside. In another large bowl, whisk together brown sugar and oil until well combined. Add pumpkin puree and whisk until combined. Add eggs and vanilla and whisk until well combined. Sprinkle flour mixture over pumpkin mixture and whisk until fully incorporated.
3. Using a small ice cream scoop with a release mechanism, drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Transfer to oven and bake until cookies are just starting to crack on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of each cookie comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely on pan.
4. Make the filling: Sift confectioner’ sugar into a medium bowl; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until smooth. Add cream cheese and beat until well combined. Add confectioners’ sugar and vanilla, beat just until smooth. (Filling can be made up to a day in advance. Cover and refrigerate; let stand at room temperature to soften before using.)
5. Assemble the whoopie pies: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Transfer filling to a disposable pastry bag and snip the end. When cookies have cooled completely, pipe a large dollop of filling on the flat side of half of the cookies. Sandwich with remaining cookies, pressing down slightly so that the filling spreads to the edge of the cookies. Use a ziplock bag with a tiny corner cut off to pipe on melted chocolate in the shape of Jack-o’-Lantern faces. Allow these to harden (stick them in the fridge for a bit to speed it up). Transfer sandwiched and decorated cookies to a prepared baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate cookies at least 30 minutes before serving and up to 3 days.

NOTE: There’s a lovely video of Matt Lewis making these whoopie pies located here (click on “Watch Video.”) Though the recipe above seems to have a lot of spice, it’s really the perfect balance — don’t skimp.

Best Ever Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Easy Caramel Frosting and Spiced Apples

Last Saturday served as a perfect example of why I dread the coming winter. It was a frigid day filled with misty rain and capped by a gloomy, gray sky. The slick streets were inundated with horrible Charlotte traffic. Depressed by the lack of sunlight for taking photos, I was nevertheless trekking to the store and to my parents’ house to gather materials for a cake. If you’d caught a glimpse of me, you might’ve mistaken me for a little black raincloud; in fact, all I needed was to take Winnie’s cue and strap a balloon around myself for the illusion to be complete. I scowled about the drivers who neglected to use their turn signals, griped to myself about the parking situation at the store, stepped in a billion ice-cold puddles, and bought a plate for my cake only to find it was “not for food use.” Humpf harrumpf humpflumpf! Finally, I grumpily turned into my parents’ neighborhood to borrow a tube pan from my mom.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XP1vPfSCYQs&hl=en&fs=1&]

When I finally arrived at my parents’ house, I was thrilled to see the warm, orange glow of the kitchen cut through the side windows into the gray morning light. Finally, some relief and refuge from the weather and from my mood. Indeed, I walked in the door and what should greet me but the smell of freshly made pumpkin pancakes oozing with butter, syrup, sugar-free caramel sauce, and whipped cream. And don’t forget the sizzle of turkey sausages on the side! My mom was standing there channeling June Cleaver (who am I kidding? June has nothing on her) flipping delicious Low-Carb Pumpkin Pancakes while my dad read the paper and anticipated his plateful. Shame on me for wallowing in my mood! My faithful God had arranged such a sweet homecoming for me despite my scowl.


Flipping some delicious Low-Carb Pumpkin Pancakes. If you look closely, you can see my mom’s Mii Cupcakes in the background!


Low-Carb Pumpkin Pancakes served with butter, syrup, sugar-free caramel, and sugar-free whipped cream. Side of turkey sausage.


Dad enjoying his breakfast.

Food plays such a prominent role in my family, and certain dishes in my mind are associated with comforting or joyful memories. The smorgasbord of silly appetizers at our New Year’s Eve game night, the cinnamon rolls and egg casserole on Christmas morning, Dad’s amazing pork butt and slaw, the chicken and dumplings we always clamored for, monkey bread! Milk toast! Sausages, peppers and onions! I could go on and on. It’s no wonder that walking into a comforting kitchen filled with delicious scents and a welcoming plate of breakfast truly felt like coming home — not just coming to borrow a tube pan. My spirits were lifted, and as I drove home, I was prepared for a day of baking another lovely family memory: the richest, most dense and moist pound cake you’ve ever tasted. It’s iced with a simple caramel frosting and served alongside some Southern fried apples.


The best pound cake ever in the history of the universe, hands down. I’m not even worried about overselling it.

Let me see if I can explain how amazing this cake is. The cream cheese imparts a richness to the already buttery batter, and results in a very dense, smooth cake. Cutting into the cake is like slicing into butter, and it’s lovely served slightly chilled. My usual complaint with pound cakes is that they’re dry even with a glaze, but this one stays perfectly moist throughout its entire baking time. The frosting has a sultry caramel flavor without the fuss of normal caramel making, and is the perfect complement to the buttery cake. As for the apples, those were my addition! What with the nice fall days we’ve been having (well, except for the miserable weather from last week), warm Southern spiced apples sounded like a delicious accompaniment to a cool cake. And maybe there was a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream in there somewhere too!

This is absolutely one of those must-bake recipes. One bite and you’ll be daydreaming all day about slicing yourself off another piece! And what a lovely dessert to share with family. I drove back to my parents’ house on Sunday to drop some off for them, and my dad sent me an email from work the next day saying he was enjoying a slice. I hope once you taste your first forkful, this cake will become part of your family’s own food memories.

Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Easy Caramel Frosting


Recipe By: Southern Living
Yields: 12

Cream Cheese Pound Cake Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

Caramel Frosting Ingredients:
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter

Directions:
Make the pound cake: beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed of an electric mixer 2 minutes or until creamy. Gradually add sugar and beat 5-7 minutes until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time and beat only until yellow disappears. Stir in vanilla.

Combine flour and salt and add to creamed mixture beating on low speed of electric mixture just until blended after each addition. Pour into greased and floured 10-inch tube pan. Fill a 2-cup ovenproof measuring cup with water and place in oven with cake (keeps it moist!). Bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour and 45 minutes or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean (check in several areas of the cake to be sure it’s completely done). Let cool on wire rack for 10 minutes then remove from pan (invert onto a plate and then invert onto another so that it’s upright) and let cool completely. When cool, spread caramel frosting over the sides.

Make the caramel frosting: melt butter in a heavy saucepan. Add brown sugar; cook over low heat, stirring constantly, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes or until sugar dissolves (do not boil). Remove from heat.

Stir in whipping cream. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat at high speed of an electric mixture until spreading consistency (do not overbeat, or your frosting will develop a play-doughy, “crunchy” consistency. It’ll still taste good, but won’t look very nice or be easy to spread). Spread immediately on top and sides of cake.


Care for some Southern Fried Apples with your cake?

Southern Fried Apples



Recipe by: Diana Rattray (slightly adapted and halved)
Yields: about 4 cups of fried apples

Ingredients:
4 medium Granny Smith apples, cored, peeled, chopped
1/8 cup butter
1/4 – 1/2 cup brown sugar (to taste)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch nutmeg (about half of 1/8 teaspoon)

Preparation:
Melt butter in a heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add apples, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Sauté 15 to 20 minutes, or until apples are tender.

Julie’s Note: I made double this and had way too many apples. Three or four tender spiced apple slices are perfect to accompany a single slice of cake, so you don’t need many. You can keep these refrigerated in an airtight container and just warm them up in the microwave before serving with cold cake (and ice cream or whipped cream, if desired). Finally, plenty of websites told me not to bother peeling my apples, so I didn’t, but I wished I had. Even though the peel got tender, it was still a different texture than the apple flesh and wasn’t “a-peel-ing.” Ha ha!




Enjoy!


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Homemade Puff Pastry and Vol-au-vents

Have you ever pulled something out of the oven and felt like a rock star? Felt giddy and awed at the first bite? Been so incredibly proud of a recipe you were inexplicably able to complete that you thought about framing the resulting photos for your desk at work? Okay, okay, maybe that’s a little much. But all silliness aside, there are turning points in my life as a baker where I feel like I “level up,” or gain a skill or technique that previously seemed too daunting for me to contemplate. This past Daring Bakers challenge was one of those turning points.

The September 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.


New baking supplies for the challenge.

Vol-au vents are simply cups of puff pastry stuffed with delicious savory or sweet fillings. That part sounds easy. But homemade puff pastry? I have to admit, I was very nervous. The recipe looked especially daunting considering my love-hate relationship with my rolling pin. I think we’ve smoothed things out, but every now and then I still feel like giving him a good whomp against the counter to adjust his attitude. And even apart from rolling pin troubles, puff pastry is just a fickle, time consuming creation. It’s made by enveloping an entire pound of butter (Heyyy, Paula Deen!) in the dough (called a détrempe). Once the butter is wrapped up like a present, you make a series of six “turns” (tri-folds) in the dough, rolling it out between each (and refrigerating often to maintain workability). This website has a useful pictorial of the turning process, but I bet you’d love to see Julia Child and Michel Richard making it in real-time, wouldn’t you? Your wish is my command! Here’s the fun part: once you have all those lovely layers of butter and dough in the oven, the water content of the butter turns into steam, inflating your pastry. If all goes well, you end up with a fluffy, buttery bit of heaven.

After watching the video above several times over, I dragged my load of doubts and worries into the kitchen and set to work with a furrowed brow. My dough seemed too sticky, my butter pounding scared little Byrd to death, and my envelope kept threatening to break and expose my butter. Nevertheless, I trudged on, hoping that somehow, my little pastries would puff their hearts out in the oven. And guess what?

It worked! It worked! It worked! It’s unfortunate (or maybe not, since Mike’s eardrums are probably sore) that you couldn’t hear me shouting those two little words as I leapt around my apartment after taking these out of the oven. It was like magic! Little disks of dough turning into lovely, sophisticated pastries via unseen processes within their layers. And not only were the pastries puffy, they were out of this world delicious. I burned each one of my little fingertips to bits (not to mention my tongue) eating them straight out of the oven. Mike liked them too! Byrd was indifferent.

I chose to stuff my vol-au-vents with both savory and sweet fillings. My savory vol-au-vent was filled with smooth goat cheese mousse with a drizzle of fresh, homemade pesto on top. The pesto was gorgeous — made with toasted pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh basil (including some huge sprigs from the garden beside my classroom — did I mention that I love my school?) The tangy goat cheese and rich pesto were such a delicious combination.

Goat Cheese Mousse and Basil Pesto


Recipe By:

Shirl on RecipeZaar (goat cheese mousse)
Elise on Simply Recipes

Yields: About 1/2 cup mousse and 1/2 cup pesto

Goat Cheese Mousse Ingredients:
8 ounces fresh goat cheese
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream, lightly whipped

Basil Pesto Ingredients:
1 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/6 cup pine nuts, toasted
1.5 medium-sized garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:
To make the mousse, process the goat cheese in a clean food processor until smooth. Add the whipped cream and blend just until incorporated.

To make the pesto, combine the basil and pine nuts in a food processor. Pulse a few times. Add the garlic, pulse a few times more. Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on low (if storing, reserve half the oil — see note below). Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Note: If storing and not using immediately, reserve half the oil. Place pesto in airtight container and drizzle reserved oil over top. Freeze or refrigerate.

My dessert plate was designed as a walk through the seasons. Spring was represented by Smitten Kitchen’s tangy mango curd, a sweet raspberry, and a dollop of homemade whipped cream. Summer was simple: homemade whipped cream and berries.

Finally, autumn was one of my favorites (in fact, you’ve seen it a few times here recently!): baked peach crisp. I baked some peaches, brown sugar, white sugar, oats, and toasted pecans in a dish before spooning the hot mixture into my puff pastry and (you know what’s coming, right?) topped it with a dollop of whipped cream! Next time I think I’ll add the toasted pecans over top of the peach mixture at the end. All of these dessert vol-au-vents were incredible in their buttery pastry cups, but our favorite by far was the Mango Curd Raspberry Vol-au-vent!


Peach Crisp Vol-au-vent



Raspberries and Cream Vol-au-vent



Mango Curd Raspberry Vol-au-vent

Mango Curd


Recipe By: Smitten Kitchen (mango curd)
Yields: About 1 to 1.5 cups

Ingredients:
1 15-ounce ripe mango, peeled, pitted, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar (might reduce this to 1/3 cup next time, to keep the curd more tart)
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Directions:
Puree mango, sugar, lime juice and salt in processor, scraping down sides of work bowl occasionally. Add yolks; puree 15 seconds longer. Strain through sieve set over large metal bowl, pressing on solids with back of spatula to release as much puree as possible. Discard solids in sieve.

Set metal bowl over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water); whisk puree until thickened and thermometer registers 170°F., about 10 minutes. Remove from over water. Whisk in butter 1 piece at a time. Cover (place plastic wrap on surface of curd to prevent a skin from forming) and refrigerate overnight. Can freeze for up to 2 months.

I’m grateful for the Daring Bakers for many reasons: the exciting recipes shared, the fantastic friendships made, the gorgeous blogs to visit. For this challenge, though, I especially want to thank Steph and the Daring Bakers for a huge confidence boost! I hope you’ll decide to give puff pastry a try. It’s a manageable beast, and the resulting dough freezes well to use for months to come. Even besides those practicalities, though, it feels like such a satisfying kitchen accomplishment!

Puff Pastry and Vol-au-vents


Recipe By: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yields: Using 1/3 of the dough yields about 9 2-inch vol-au-vents

Ingredients:
2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter

plus extra flour for dusting work surface

Directions:

Mixing the Dough:
Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.

Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)

Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that’s about 1″ thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.

Incorporating the Butter:
Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10″ square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with “ears,” or flaps.

Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don’t just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8″ square.

To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.

Making the Turns:
Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24″ (don’t worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24″, everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).

With a pastry brush, brush off 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, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.

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″ and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.

Chilling the Dough:
If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, 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 by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.

The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.

Steph’s extra tips:

  • While this is not included in the original recipe we are using (and I did not do this in my own trials), many puff pastry recipes use a teaspoon or two of white vinegar or lemon juice, added to the ice water, in the détrempe dough. This adds acidity, which relaxes the gluten in the dough by breaking down the proteins, making rolling easier. You are welcome to try this if you wish.
  • Keep things cool by using the refrigerator as your friend! If you see any butter starting to leak through the dough during the turning process, rub a little flour on the exposed dough and chill straight away. Although you should certainly chill the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns, if you feel the dough getting to soft or hard to work with at any point, pop in the fridge for a rest.
  • Not to sound contradictory, but if you chill your paton longer than the recommended time between turns, the butter can firm up too much. If this seems to be the case, I advise letting it sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes to give it a chance to soften before proceeding to roll. You don’t want the hard butter to separate into chuncks or break through the dough…you want it to roll evenly, in a continuous layer.
  • Roll the puff pastry gently but firmly, and don’t roll your pin over the edges, which will prevent them from rising properly. Don’t roll your puff thinner than about about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick, or you will not get the rise you are looking for.
  • Try to keep “neat” edges and corners during the rolling and turning process, so the layers are properly aligned. Give the edges of the paton a scooch with your rolling pin or a bench scraper to keep straight edges and 90-degree corners.
  • Brush off excess flour before turning dough and after rolling.
  • Make clean cuts. Don’t drag your knife through the puff or twist your cutters too much, which can inhibit rise.
  • When egg washing puff pastry, try not to let extra egg wash drip down the cut edges, which can also inhibit rise.
  • Extra puff pastry dough freezes beautifully. It’s best to roll it into a sheet about 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick (similar to store-bought puff) and freeze firm on a lined baking sheet. Then you can easily wrap the sheet in plastic, then foil (and if you have a sealable plastic bag big enough, place the wrapped dough inside) and return to the freezer for up to a few months. Defrost in the refrigerator when ready to use.
  • You can also freeze well-wrapped, unbaked cut and shaped puff pastry (i.e., unbaked vols-au-vent shells). Bake from frozen, without thawing first.
  • Homemade puff pastry is precious stuff, so save any clean scraps. Stack or overlap them, rather than balling them up, to help keep the integrity of the layers. Then give them a singe “turn” and gently re-roll. Scrap puff can be used for applications where a super-high rise is not necessary (such as palmiers, cheese straws, napoleons, or even the bottom bases for your vols-au-vent).


Vol-au-vents ready to go into the oven, and then baking under a silicon mat.



Pesto fixings.

Don’t forget to cruise the Daring Bakers blogroll to see all of the creative vol-au-vents fillings other chefs chose.

Now I want to hear from you: what was your proudest culinary achievement?

Mini-Pies: Pumpkin, Peach Crisp, and Sour Cream Apple

As the days adopt a chill and the pretty trees behind my apartment lazily lose their leaves, I’m embracing what’s to come. I’ve already begun lighting my Balsam and Cedar candles, poking about for pumpkin recipes, and crunching happily down sidewalks strewn with crisp leaves. I’m trying to get in the autumn spirit, and it was with that mindset that I sat down this week to hunt for delicious recipes. My Sunday school class is having a potluck tomorrow, and I wanted something bite-sized and special to contribute.

Whenever I’m pondering what to bake, I struggle between two very disparate urges. On one hand, I love baked goods that are cute. You know, those cupcakes that look like burgers, cake balls shaped like random animals, cakes decorated to resemble inanimate objects. On the other hand, I grow more in tune with each passing week to the fact that I’m pinching salt, molding dough, tossing flour, and in short, creating things with my hands. In keeping with that, I love baked goods that are simple, rustic, and emphatically homemade. Marrying these two desires is sometimes difficult, but this weekend, I think I found the perfect solution (just in time for the Sunday school potluck): miniature pies. Itty bitty Pumpkin Pies, Peach Crisp Pies, and Sour Cream Apple Pies, to be precise.

These tiny pies are so sweet and cute and charming . . . that I’m almost suspicious. Remember diminutive, pigtailed Rhoda from the classic 1956 horror film The Bad Seed?

She was ostensibly the picture of perfection, but in actuality, she was going around killing neighborhood children, old ladies, and her family’s dimwitted handyman. I can just see her roller skating down the sidewalk with a basket of these perfect pies. She used to ask her parents, “What will you give me for a basket of kisses?” and they’d respond nauseatingly, “A basket of hugs.” But who wants a basket of hugs when you could have a basket of pies?

Murderous allusions notwithstanding, these particular perfect treats are not too good to be true. Unlike dear Rhoda, they are every bit as sweet and delectable as they appear.

The Mini Peach Crisp Pies were exact taste replicas of their full-size cousin. I chopped fresh, juicy peaches and mixed them with brown sugar, granulated sugar, and oats. This simple combination yields an unexpectedly bright fall flavor with a satisfying, gooey, oaty texture. I’m glad I have more of these waiting in my fridge. I don’t know if my Sunday school class will get to sample these!

The Sour Cream Apple Pies had a nostalgic appeal. When I was little, my mom made a buttery, tangy dessert she called, simply, Apple Kuchen. It was easy to assemble — a yellow cake mix base topped with apple pie filling and sour cream. I’ll have to post that recipe sometime, since it was my first introduction to the apples and sour cream together. That combination is still a favorite of mine today. These mini-pies didn’t quite live up to my expectations, though; the flavor was very mild and left me wishing for more spice. The recipe I used didn’t call for a single bit of cinnamon or nutmeg, and though I snuck in a few shakes of the cinnamon jar, it still needed some work. I have to hand you a grain of salt to take with my criticism, though, since I’m devouring these little apple parcels lustily. The sweet apple flavor is certainly still appealing.

Last but not least, the Pumpkin Pies were my absolute favorite. Spicy, custardy pumpkin inside a buttery, flaky crust, all topped with either a pretty pecan or a dollop of homemade whipped cream (okay, or both!). Want to know the best part? They were by far the easiest mini-pie to assemble — so easy that I’m making them one of my go-to desserts. Just like the Plum and Cream Mini Tortes Mike and I loved so much, these little pies pay out much more joy and deliciousness than they cost in labor.



I can’t wait for you to try these miniature pies and share your thoughts with me! How else are you going to try three or four different flavors of pie all on one plate? If you’d rather not indulge your do-too-muchitis, though, why not choose just one flavor to bake? Pop a pan of the easy pumpkin pies in the oven all by themselves for a simple treat. Whether you bake one flavor or all of them, I hope you’re thrilled with the sweet results.

Miniature Pies: Pumpkin, Sour Cream Apple, and Peach Crisp


Recipe By:

Digs Magazine (pumpkin pie filling)
Not Martha (fruit pie inspiration)
Epicurious (apple pie filling, adapted)
-Willow Bird Baking (peach crisp filling)

Yields: About 48 mini-muffin sized pies, depending on proportions
Crust Ingredients:
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup cold butter flavored vegetable shortening*
3/4 cup cold butter, chopped
6-8 tablespoons cold water
*I tried shortening for this recipe, but prefer lard!

Pumpkin Pie Filling Ingredients:
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
6 oz. evaporated milk
1.5 eggs*
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
*For half an egg – lightly beat one egg, then measure out 1 1/2 tablespoons.

Peach Crisp Filling Ingredients:
3 peaches, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1.5 tablespoons granulated sugar (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/8 cup oats
pinch salt

Sour Cream Apple Filling Ingredients:
2/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large eggs
1.5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 large Granny Smith apples

Egg Wash Ingredients:
1 egg
a little water

Whipped Cream Ingredients:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
5 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (or flavoring of your choice)


Directions:

Make the crust: Pulse flour and salt together to combine. Add chunks of shortening and pulse into the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds. Add in chunks of butter and pulse until butter pieces are no larger than small peas, about 10 pulses. Add minimum amount of water and pulse on low. If dough remains crumbly and doesn’t come together, add another 2 tablespoons of water. Add as little as is required to enable the dough to be rolled into a ball. Form the dough into 2 disks, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes while preparing your filling.

Make desired fillings: While dough is chilling, make desired fillings.

  1. Pumpkin: Combine the sugars, cinnamon and ginger in a mixing bowl. Beat in the eggs and stir in the pumpkin; add the evaporated milk and mix well. Refrigerate if you aren’t using it right away.
  2. Peach Crisp: Mix all ingredients together.
  3. Sour Cream Apple: Whisk together the sour cream, sugar, salt, vanilla, eggs, and flour until the mixture is smooth. Add the apples, peeled, cored, and sliced thin, and stir the filling until it is combined well. Note: I added a teaspoon of cinnamon and wish I’d added some nutmeg, too.

Prepare the bottom crust: Take one of the disks of dough and pinch off walnut-sized balls. Place a ball in each well of an ungreased mini-muffin pan. Using your fingers, work the dough up the sides of each well (and create a little lip of dough rising over the edge for fruit pies). Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

For fruit pies: Fill each well with desired fruit filling. Pinch off a piece of dough and flatten it or roll it out thin on a sheet of parchment paper. Using a 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out a top crust. Place the top crust on one of the wells, folding the bottom crust lip over with the edge of the top crust and crimping the edges shut. You can use a toothpick to decorate the edges. Repeat for all of the mini-pies. Cut a crisscross vent in the center of each pie. Mix the egg and water in a small bowl and brush the tops of the pies. Bake pies at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, checking often. If the pies appear to be getting too brown, cover the whole pan with aluminum foil. Remove and let cool in pan for a few minutes before transferring mini-pies to a wire rack to cool completely.

For pumpkin pies: Pour pumpkin pie filling into each prepared well. Bake pies for 30-35 minutes, or until crust is golden and filling set. Remove and sprinkle chopped toasted pecans on top OR decorate with a pretty toasted pecan half. Let cool in pan for a few minutes before transferring mini-pies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Serve mini-pies with vanilla ice cream or homemade whipped cream. To make homemade whipped cream, mix all ingredients together until soft peaks are obtained.

Notes: The fruit pie filling portions above are most likely out of proportion. I made extra peach and apple to freeze. The pumpkin filling recipe above has been halved from the original, because I made the original amount and ended up with way too much.

To store Pumpkin and Sour Cream Apple Mini-Pies, refrigerate in an airtight container.


Preparing my apple pie filling and baking the pies.



Pumpkin pies baking and cooling off.



All packed up and ready to go to Sunday school!



Happy Eating!

P.S. Nominate your favorite food blogs for the 2009 Foodbuzz Blog Awards by September 30th!

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