Thursday, October 28, 2010

Triple Chocolate Praline Tart

I found today's recipe thanks to one of my far-flung Twitter contacts, Gourmet Traveller an Australian magazine. Reading the the tweets from @GourmetTweets provides an interesting global experience because the seasons in Australia are exactly opposite those of my part of the world (the American South being the Northern Hemisphere and all) so the magazine touts hearty comforting food when I'm craving cool salads during a summer heat wave, and it features refreshing fare when I'm thinking of a bowl of something toasty and warm. (Recent recipe tweets have been for lamb and strawberries as right now it's springtime in Australia.)

But that is, after all, what bookmarks are for, and I've marked plenty of recipes from the magazine's site. No matter if I need to wait 6 months for the appropriate season to roll around to my part of the world. Today's Triple Chocolate Praline Tart is one that came across my twitter stream a good long time ago and I've been waiting for the perfect time to share it.

Fortunately, chocolate has no season - although it does have a National Holiday here in the United States, today, October 28. And I cannot think of a more appropriate recipe to feature than a tart composed of three separate elements, each of them chocolate (chocolate tart crust, milk chocolate praline filling and dark chocolate ganache top layer)! For good measure, extra praline adds decorative pizzazz and a sweet crunch.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The recipe, which you can find here, consists of three chocolate elements and a praline one.

- To make the praline, first you caramelize some nuts into a brittle, then pulverize it in a food processor. I used almonds instead of hazelnuts because I had just the right amount that were already blanched, and my hazelnuts all had skins. The thought of adding a blanching step was simply too daunting.

- Australian "pouring cream" (used in both of the ganache elements) is about 35% milkfat, a bit lighter than American heavy cream. In the old days (say, about 2 years ago) I might have tried to accurately calculate the fat percentages to get the same total amount as in the recipe, but this time I just winged it and used mostly heavy cream, along with some half-and-half.

- The recipe calls for a 28 cm tart pan, which converts to 11" by my calculations. I used my 9" tart pan and naturally ended up with an extra amount of each kind of ganache (although I wonder if I could have stretched the crust to cover a larger pan). Leftover ganache rarely goes to waste around here, though! I love having it in the freezer for those chocolate-topping emergencies.

- The good thing about a tart recipe like this is that each of the elements can be prepared well in advance of serving; in fact the finished tart can be assembled early, leaving no last-minute dessert preparations.

the verdict:

The tart proved to be very popular at a dinner party with my favorite tasters, my book group, who enjoyed its elegant slim appearance and strong hit of chocolate-upon-chocolate-upon-chocolate flavor.

Happy National Chocolate Day to those in the US, Happy Spring to those Down Under, and Happy October 28 to everyone else!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

{TWD} All-American, All-Delicious Apple Pie Challenges Mom's Apple Pie

My dog, Bro, waits patiently for the pie to cool.
I cannot begin to be objective about apple pie because my mother was the undisputed Apple Pie Queen. Every single day when the 4 of us children were taking naps, my mom baked up a pie worthy of a prize at the State Fair. Her pies always contained soft Macintosh apples, and were spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg (my daughter J.D.E. also adds mace) and thickened with flour. [I've previously posted mom's recipe here.]

When Dorie Greenspan's All-American, All-Delicious Apple Pie was chosen for this week's recipe in the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group, I was curious to see how it would stack up. But I didn't want to serve it only to my family, all of whom have been spoiled/ruined for any other apple pie by now. It would be a perfect offering at my book group, however, especially since I've never actually baked my mom's perfect apple pie for them!

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Emily of the blog Sandmuffin chose the All-American, All-Delicious Apple Pie for us this week. What a perfect fall choice! You can find the recipe by clicking over to her blog post.

- Mom's pie uses cinnamon and nutmeg and so does Dorie's. In fact, they use the same amount of the same spices. The measure of sugar is the same, as is the quantity of butter to dot the filling before popping on the top crust. Hmm, could they be the same pie?

- No, they are not! When I double checked the recipes, I saw that Dorie's pie calls for a whopping 4 pounds of apples (also described as 6 "very large" apples), whereas the pie I usually make takes about 2 pounds (specified as 6 medium apples). In a nutshell, mom's pie filling has proportionally double the sweetness (Well, my mother definitely confesses to a sweet tooth.), spiciness and buttery-ness of Dorie's.

- Looking further I see that Dorie adds the lzest of a whole lemon, and my mom never used any lemon at all (although the recipe she used as the basis for her pie did call for lemon juice).

- Apple pies can tend to get very juicy as they cook (depending a lot on the kind of apples used in the filling). Dorie takes care of this in two ways: by lining the bottom crust with graham cracker or bread crumbs, and by adding "quick cooking" tapioca to the filling. Other bakers use flour or cornstarch to thicken their pies, my mom opting for flour. I have never used tapioca to thicken an apple pie and I was curious to see how it would turn out (for this recipe I used "minute" tapioca because that's what I had. For that matter, that's all that I could find on the shelves of our local grocery store.) I did leave out the crumbs.

the big pie, ready to hit the oven.

- By the time all was said and done, there were 5 different apple varieties in this pie: Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, Golden Delicious, and two unidentified apple types that arrived in my farm box. Sometimes I briefly pre-cook the filling for a few minutes on the stove top, which can compact the filling a bit and also gives the apples a bit of a head start in getting soft and melty (the way I like them best in pie). I didn't do that with this recipe, though, because I really and truly wanted to bake the recipe the way Dorie wrote it (wonder of wonders...).

- It is hard to describe jut how much filling was in my mixing bowl. My pie pan is 9" and pretty deep, and I worked until I had a very tall pie, but I still had enough left for a 6" mini (which I popped into the freezer unbaked). Well, truth be told, I did add a few slices of Asian pear to the small pie before I popped on the top crust, but if I hadn't packed so much into the main pie I could have easily filled the mini with the extra apple filling.

The mini-pie, ready for its trip to the freezer!
- I used my up-until-now Foolproof Pie Dough from Cook's Illustrated. I'm pretty sure that my bloggy buddy Cathy's recent negative experience with that crust recipe was contagious because mine was pretty wet/soggy this time. It was so soft that I could barely work with it, but luckily it baked up fantastic and flaky. - I might have forgotten to dot the filling with butter - I nearly always do forget, and have been known to slide bits of butter in through the steam vents after the pie is all sealed up.

- For me the hardest part of baking an apple pie is figuring out when to take it out of the oven. My mom's advice is to wait for "lazy bubbles" which helps a lot. I wasn't sure about the bubbles on this filling because the tapioca thickener was unfamiliar to me, but I took my best guess on appropriate bubble laziness, and I think the pie was baked just the right amount.

the verdict:

I have to say that this is very nice apple pie recipe indeed. I loved the combination of apples. Each variety cooked to a different level of softness and had a slightly different apple flavor, which made the filling very complex and interesting. The relatively mild level of spice and sugar may have let the apples take more of the stage than my familiar pie.

The pie was, to put it mildly, well-received by my tasters. Slice after slice disappeared, as everyone enjoyed the pure fall delight of warm apple pie on a crisp evening.

Clearly Dorie's pie gave Mom's pie a run for its money. If I weren't so imprinted to the specific taste of my usual pie, I might just say that Dorie's was just as good. But, shhh! you didn't hear it here!

A slice for me and a slice for you!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Happy Birthday Happy Birthday Duck Breasts with Fresh Figs

Duck breasts with fresh figs (and the most delicious sauce!)
When my children were young, a friend of mine quoted to me, "I used to cook, but now I fix dinner." There's so much truth to that. Daily cooking can easily devolve into a routine of preparing quick, easy food that everyone will eat. With any luck it will also be tasty and nourishing!

My culinary horizons expanded quite a bit as a by-product of startig my food blog to join the online baking group Tuesdays With Dorie, baking through Dorie Greenspan's wonderful book Baking From My Home to Yours. (My daughter ALE jokes that it's not fair that I waited until she left home before I began cooking and baking in earnest. Luckily we visit each other's kitchens often enough that we engage in marathon cooking/baking sessions together.) Although on a weekly basis there are still plenty of thrown-together meals at my home, I love to pull out my books, especially when there's a special occasion afoot.

And what a special occasion this is! Today is Dorie Greenspan's birthday, and in celebration a bunch of food bloggers are getting together to cook Dorie a virtual birthday meal. We're cooking from Dorie's new volume Around My French Table and we've got it all covered, from appetizers to desserts.

As soon as I learned of the virtual birthday dinner party, I knew I wanted to make a memorable main course for a very special birthday party. Two birthday parties, actually! I was cooking virtually for one birthday girl, Dorie, and also cooking really for another birthday girl, my daughter ALE, whose birthday is just two days before Dorie's. Duck breast happens to be one of ALE's favorite things so I zeroed right in on the recipe for Duck Breasts with Fresh Peaches on page 230. Sadly, down here in the Peach State peach season has ended, but Dorie gives a selection of alternate fruits, making it into a year-round recipe. I ended up cooking the duck breasts twice (once with pears and currants and once with fresh figs) and since there are two birthday honorees, I have double reasons to call this "Happy Birthday Happy Birthday Duck Breasts."

Here's the pear/currant version of the duck breast recipe. Sorry for the artificial light photo.
n.o.e.'s notes:

- Holly, of the blog, is publishing a roundup of this fabulous birthday dinner party for Dorie, so check out her post to click on each of the fantastic dishes - everything from appetizers to desserts - that bloggers have cooked up from Dorie's book!

- We have agreed not to publish the recipes from the book, so if you like what you see on our posts, I'd heartily recommend that you buy the book or request it from your library.

- The first version of this recipe I tried was with pears. As much as I love pears, when they are cooked or baked, they sometimes need a little help in the flavor department. Dried fruit is a perfect complement, so I added dried currants to the recipe.

- Dorie specifies large duck breasts - 1 pound each - but also mentions that smaller ones can be used, as long as the total weight is around 2 pounds. I was able to locate the larger duck breast at my favorite specialty market, and used two.

- The recipe's method is quite straigtforward. First the duck is seared, then placed in a warm oven to finish cooking while a simple pan sauce with fresh fruit is made on the stove top. Put the two together, garnish with fresh thyme, and voila!

- I made the mistake of using Asian pears, which I had on hand from my farm box. I realized too late that this was a crisp variety of pear which didn't soften as they cooked. Consequently the duck breasts got a tad overcooked in the warm oven while I waited for the pears to lose their curnch. This is a terrible thing to happen to beautiful duck breasts which had been browned to medium-rare perfection.

- The sauce, however, was delicious. I can see why Dorie loved it so much that she decided to find fruits other than peaches that would work with the recipe so that she could enjoy it all year. I think that Dorie would also love the fabulous pop of tart flavor from the currants I used. The rest of my family didn't seem to mind the barely-pink duck, but I was sad that Dorie's (and ALE's) birthday duck was overcooked.

- As is pretty typical at this time of year, dinner was ready after it was already dark outside, so the only pictures I have of the finished dish are available (artificial) light, never the best option.

- I really wanted this dish to look and taste perfect for Dorie, so I decided to make it again! Not much of a hardship, as we all love duck around here, and the recipe really is a speedy one to make. The second time I made the recipe with fresh figs. The duck breasts were from Whole Foods, and were the small version - each less than 1/2 pound - so I used five of them to get the 2 pounds needed for the recipe.

- This time the recipe went off without a hitch. The figs softened nicely in short order (thanks, figs!) and almost before I knew it we had a lovely duck dinner. And the bonus? I cooked early enough that there was still a bit of natural light on my front porch when the dish was ready to serve.

the verdict:

It turns out that this recipe for duck breasts is not only elegant enough for a fancy birthday dinner, it's simple enough to prepare for a weekday dinner for the family. The sauce is lovely, and complements a wide variety of different fruit. Overall, I prefer cooking the larger duck breasts because I think it's (usually at least!) easier to get them browned properly while keeping the meat tender.

There are two other recipes for duck breasts in AMFT, all following the same browning/warming/pan sauce method. I'm eager to try them all, and will probably not wait for another birthday to roll around before I cook duck again.

Happy Birthday, Dorie! Thanks for sharing your wonderful recipes with us!!

And thanks to Laurie of the blog slush and Holly of for organizing this fun virtual birthday dinner.

To see more Around My French Table goodness, check out the French Fridays with Dorie cooking group, where cooks worldwide prepare the featured weekly recipes from the book. You might even be tempted to join in (you don't even need a blog!)

The Tuesdays with Dorie baking group has been baking through Dorie's book Baking: From My Home to Yours for nearly 3 years. Stop by to check out the group's progress!

Friday, October 22, 2010


I am a huge fan of Dorie Greenspan, baker and cook extraordinaire. My first experience with her work was through her book Baking: From My Home to Yours, an almost-encyclopedic collection of beautifully written and presented recipes for baked goods. The Tuesdays With Dorie baking group was formed in early 2008 so that bakers could "bake through" the book; each week features a recipe chosen for the group by a different baker. I have been baking - and posting - delectable treats from that book every week for over two years, and eagerly await each new recipe.

Aside from the sheer deliciousness of the finished products, the most gratifying part of the book is the clarity of Dorie's voice coming through on each and every page. I begin working with a recipe and suddenly it is as if Dorie herself were in the kitchen with me, explaining each step. As a result, I've gained lots of confidence in the kitchen and a fierce loyalty to Dorie! So a few months ago when I heard that Dorie was writing a book about French home cooking, I placed an immediate pre-order with The new book is called new book Around My French Table and it's packed with delicious recipes, from the proverbial soup to nuts.

The same fine person (Laurie Woodward, of the blog slush) who started the Tuesdays with Dorie group has joined with a few other hardy souls to organize a group to cook through Around My French Table. Called French Fridays with Dorie the group is bigger and a bit looser. Cooks can come and go as the mood and the dish strike them. Dorie herself chose the recipes for the month of October, and bloggers around the globe have been busy in their kitchens and on their computers since October 1, the posting date for the first recipe, Gougeres. I actually made the gougeres on time but am just now getting to post them.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- We are not posting the recipes from the book, so if you want to make these yourself (and you should!), you'll have to pick up the book (I bought my book here.) To see how other FFwD cooks fared, you can find them here.

- I have been wanting to make gougeres since I saw them on David Lebovitz's blog. Had I only realized how simple they are to mix up and toss in the oven, I'd have made them before now. Gougeres are along the lines of cream puffs, but the dough has lots of grated cheese, so you end up with a puffy bit of bread lined with melty cheese.

- Dorie gives allowance to use various kinds of cheese in this recipe. I had Fiscalini San Joachim in my cheese drawer, so that's what I used.

- I measured my gougeres out with a cookie scoop, and they ended up pretty uniform in size and shape. Following Dorie's tip, I froze half of the batch unbaked and baked the other half of the dough balls.

- Despite a fair part of trepidation on my part, my gougeres did indeed puff in the oven - like magic!

the verdict:

I baked the gougeres when both of my daughters were home, and none of us could resist these cheesy puffs hot from the oven. A few made it to room temperature, and I can report that they are very good that way also. And every time I open my freezer, the sight of the frozen balls of cheese dough brings a smile to my lips...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

{TWD} Caramel Pumpkin Pie

As much as I enjoy baking with apples - and pears - to me the real star of the autumnal ingredient lineup is pumpkin! Last year, the shortage of canned pumpkin in the US cast a distressing shadow over the baking landscape, and my local grocery store is still feeling the effects of the limited pumpkin production. Canned pumpkin is kept behind closed doors in the customer service department, where it is doled out two cans per customer. Obviously, pumpkin is not a thing to be squandered on subpar recipes! This week's Tuesdays With Dorie selection, Caramel Pumpkin Pie, carried an added burden. Not only did I have to decide if it was worthy from a taste perspective but also whether it merited a can of my precious pumpkin hoard. But with homemade caramel stirred into the usual pumpkin pie ingredients, this recipe certainly sounded like it would be worthwhile.

I got a little carried away with the whipped cream, but it was delicious
with this pie

n.o.e.'s notes:

- This fall dessert was chosen for the group this week by Janell of the blog Mortensen Family Memoirs and you can find the recipe on her informative post.

- Pumpkin pie might be my very favorite desset. The standard recipe for pumpkin pie at our house calls for molasses and tons of spice.

- I made a full sized pie and followed the recipe exactly.

- In making the caramel, Dorie gives the option of stirring in rum or cider. I used some of my King Arthur boiled cider but reduced the quantity because the flavor is so strong.

- I also baked a gluten-free version of the pie, with a nut crust and I caramelized palm sugar for the filling. The palm sugar was much more difficult to caramelize this time around, but it finally turned a very dark brown. This strong caramel carried through with an almost burnt taste in the filling of the finished pie.

the verdict:

I served this pie to my book group and it was a huge, huge, huge success. Three of my tasters don't like pumpkin pie but each liked this enough to eat a generous slice. One is planning to bake this recipe for her Thanksgiving dinner.

I found the pie to be an unusual, lightly spiced, sweet, and quite enjoyable take on the classic pumpkin pie. It is not likely to unseat our molasses-and-spice family favorite pumpkin pie, but it was definitely worth using a can of pumpkin.

gluten free version of pie. The deeply caramelized palm sugar made the
filling darker and more intense.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Apple Maple Granola with Figs

A while back my daughters were planning a backpacking trip in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Granola was on the menu for breakfast on the trail, so I offered to bake some for them. I was eager to try a recipe I'd seen on David Lebovitz's blog, filled with the flavors of autumn: apples, figs, maple and nuts.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I've been making my own granola for over two years. Although I've tried other recipes, my usual recipe is here. Homemade is so easy that I've never looked back - or bought any granola again.

- This time I used a recipe from David Lebovitz, who adapted it from a recipe in Feast, by Nigella Lawson.

- All you need to make granola is a very large bowl, a baking sheet, oats or other flaked grains, nuts, seeds and dried fruit. I stuck very closely to Lebovitz's recipe, using oats, almonds, and raw sunflower seeds. I replaced his sesame seeds with raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

- The recipe calls for four kinds of sweeteners: I used applesauce, brown sugar, honey, and maple syrup (instead of rice syrup)

- My granola baked in a slow oven for nearly an hour. When it cooled, it was delightfully crunchy and aromatic, and just packed with seeds, nuts and fruit.

- I added chopped dried figs at the end.

the verdict:

This granola smelled amazing while it was baking. I love the way the flavors of the apple and maple combined. The girls really liked this granola, especially "the figs. They were key." My older daughter asked for the recipe, so you know it was a keeper!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

{TWD} Pear Foldover Torte, regular and gluten-free

A 6 inch mini torte with flaky pie crust

The Tuesdays With Dorie baking group continued on an autumn baking spree this week with Dorie Greenspan's Fold-Over Pear Torte, a sort of hybrid pie/pudding concoction, baked in a springform pan and packed with fruit - pears this time - and nuts.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Cakelaw of Laws of the Kitchen selected this week's torte for us to bake. You can find the recipe on her site.

- Dorie's recipe calls for pears, walnuts, and chopped dried apricots. Although sometimes pears are a little bland in desserts, I decided to stick pretty closely to the original; my version switched out the apricots for dried cherries (plumped in boiling water first) because I'll use any pretext to bake with dried cherries.

- I made two 6 inch tortes. In addition to the regular pie-crust-encrusted torte, I also made a gluten-free version, with a base layer of nut tart crust (similar to the one that I made here) and then lots of fruit and custard. For the gluten-free torte I replaced the all purpose flour in the custard with a mixture of coconut flour and almond flour.

the gluten-free torte with a nut crust base (and no fold over)

- I forgot to add the baking powder to the custard, but luckily the tortes seemed none the worse for the omission. They still puffed a bit - from the eggs I guess.

- We love custard at our house, so I made extra filling to be certain that there was enough custard in each of the tortes. I was able to use all of the gluten-free filling in my very tall 6" springform pan. For the regular tart, the pan was much shallower and I couldn't fit all of the filling into the crust, so I baked the extra fruit and custard in some buttered baking dishes.

- Instead of Dorie's crust, for the regular torte I used the Cook's Illustrated pie crust (find the recipe here, and my previous post about it here) which is my very favorite crust for two reasons: it is impossibly easy to work with the dough, and I love the taste from the combination of shortening and butter. The pie crust complements any pie filling without stealing the starring role.

- The crust didn't brown very much as it baked in the oven so next time I might brush it with a milk or egg wash.

the leftover fruit and custard, baked in a buttered dish

the verdict:

My husband ate the regular torte and absolutely loved it. "This might be the best dessert. Ever." He savored his little torte over the course of a few days, accompanied by rum ice cream.

My daughter J.D.E. and I sampled the gluten-free torte. It had a luxurious amount of custard, and the nut crust played a nice supporting role. My daugher liked the dessert so much that she said she'd like the baked custard + fruit even without the crust (although she preferred the nut crust to the regular pie crust).

This torte has earned a permanent spot in the fall baking repertory!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

{TWD} Double Apple Bundt Cake with Cider Maple Glaze

There are a lot of things to love about summer cooking. Tomatoes and peaches. Beans and summer squash straight from the vine. Fresh produce which I dearly miss once summer comes to an end. But once Labor Day passes and the weather finally cools a bit, I am happy to gear up for my very favorite season and the very favorite pastime in my kitchen: fall baking! Apple recipes set the stage for the wonderful spicy flavors to come all through the colder months.

The Tuesdays With Dorie bakers have lots of wonderful apple recipes to enjoy this season, beginning with the Tarte Fine last week, continuing with this week's Double Apple Bundt Cake, and on to more apple recipes later in October.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Lynne of the blog Honey Muffin chose the Double Apple Bundt Cake for us this week. You can find the recipe on her blog.

- The recipe calls for chopped nuts and raisins. I was baking this cake for my book group and there are some raisin-haters and nut-shunners among the members. I omitted the raisins and figured that I could get away with very finely chopped pecans (the least offensive nut to my tasters). Trader Joe's sells bags of toasted, chopped (finely) pecans that are an absolute lifesaver for a busy baker.

- Cancelling out all of the time-saving assistance given by the packaged nuts, I made my own apple butter which is a somewhat lengthy process, but not a difficult one. I used the apple butter recipe from the blog Simply Recipes, as I did when I baked the apple bread pudding a coupl of months ago. The apple butter thickened relatively quickly. In fact I may have let it get a bit too dense; when it came time to add it to the cake batter with the mixer on low speed, the apple butter didn't fully incorporate into the batter. As a result, the cake was left with little pockets of apple butter (which turned out to be delicious).

- I baked 1.5 recipe and filled four 2- cup molds and partly filled a 10-cup mold. The cakes rose quite a bit in the oven and were so pretty when released from their pans.

- I reduced the sugar by about 25% and the cake was still quite sweet.

- To dress up the cake a bit I made a cider/maple glaze. I set some boiled cider from King Arthur (a very intense concentrated essence of cider) in a little sauce pan with maple sugar and cooked it to thicken it a bit more. The maple sugar doesn't dissolve as easily as cane sugar, but I like the subtle flavor that it added to the glaze. When it boiled over (oops) I declared it done.

- Dorie says that the cake is better the second day. So of course I had to test that! We sampled some for dessert the evening I baked the cake, then had more for breakfast (it has fruit, don't forget), and then again that evening. The cake was well-tested, to be sure.

the verdict:

We ate one of the little cakes for dessert the first day and the next morning for breakfast - plain and unglazed. It had a lovely soft somewhat refined crumb. Grating the apple meant that there were no obvious pieces of apple detectable in the cake. Rather the apple shreds along with the apple butter contributed to the pervasive apple flavor of the cake. It reminded me very much of a very good banana cake, except with the taste of apple where the banana would be. If that makes any sense. I'm glad I omitted the raisins but the nuts added a nice crunch. The cake was quite sweet so I'm also glad that I cut the sugar. My husband asked for seconds, so we know he loved it!

The other small cakes were the perfect size to give away.

For book group in the evening I covered the bundt cake with a cider/maple glaze. I served the cake with whipped cream - which I consider essential to this cake - and drizzled some more of the cider glaze on top. I loved the way the glaze added even more apple-y goodness to an already delicious cake. My tasters were extremely enthusiastic about this one, in part because of the great recipe and in part because there had been a very long summer break since our last meeting.

This is a great cake to keep in the repertory. I think it would also be good with brown sugar or caramel frosting. I'd love to use some oat flour and/or a rough whole wheat to see how this cake would be with a rustic texture.