Canelés de Bordeaux

So, in my pastry adventures I’d often heard of canelés de Bourdeaux, little French pastries that are custardy on the inside, deeply caramelized on the outside, and which (sadly) require a lot of time and some specialty equipment to make. Given the apparent complexity of the process I’d decided against trying to make them myself, until I actually tried one and got hooked.

These things are really delicious– the outside has a nice, toasty flavor from the caramelization and a crisp-chewy texture, presumably from the beeswax/butter coating, while the inside is soft and squidgy, with a nice hit of rum at the end. They’re kind of like creme brulee in pastry form– I had to try making my own.

The problem, of course, is that traditional canelés are made with individual copper molds that run for $15-40 *each* online, and obviously you’d need a set of at least 8 to make the recipe worth baking. There had to be another way. Some internet research indicated that most of the silicone options weren’t sufficiently conductive to get real caramelization on the outside, so I went for a heavy-duty metal pan— nonstick, but that was only a side benefit since I would definitely be using the wax/butter coating for a more authentic result.

I found a very helpful post by Taste of Artisan, giving not only the recipe but very clear instructions on the baking process. I highly recommend that you check it out, though I had to adapt things a bit to account for my use of non-traditional molds.

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Fruitcake Mooncakes

Growing up, a staple of my family’s holiday season was a fruitcake from the Collins Street Bakery. At the time, my mother was the only one who really liked it– for some reason the combination of sticky candied fruit and masses of pecans just didn’t do it for the rest of us– but as an adult I’ve actually grown to enjoy it. We don’t buy them anymore (they’ve gotten so expensive, particularly with shipping), but this past Christmas, inspired by a fruit-and-nut-heavy mooncake recipe, I decided to make a reasonable approximation in individually-sized servings.

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Cocoa Nib Pecan Shortbread Cookies

Have I mentioned before that Alice Medrich is one of my favorite cookbook authors? She focuses on desserts– chocolate specifically– and her book “Bittersweet” was one of the first cookbooks I ever made a point of buying. It’s full of great recipes for both standard and unorthodox uses of chocolate, and introduced me to cocoa nibs.

What are cocoa nibs? They’re roasted cacao beans– the base ingredient of chocolate– so they have a toasty chocolate flavor, but none of the sweetness of processed chocolate. They’re kind of like a cross between chocolate and nuts when used in cookies. This shortbread recipe combines cocoa nibs with pecans, both of which make for a subtle but flavorful cookie.

I admit that I gilded the lily a bit and sandwiched my cookies with a ring of chocolate ganache and a salted butter caramel center. The ganache actually overpowered the caramel a bit, but overall the effect was decadent.

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Pumpkin Brown Butter Layer Cake

For Thanksgiving this year I originally intended to make a marbled pumpkin cheesecake, but my seven-year-old responded with a firm “no,” insisting on cake. Since she’s been getting into baking lately, I figured I’d enlist her help to make this one, which has a lot of components (you saw a few of them already) but ends up looking and tasting really impressive. The pumpkin cake is lovely and moist, and the candied nuts add a wonderful textural contrast. The decorative garnishes were just icing on the cake!

That being said, I really like using brown butter in recipes, but I have to admit that while the batter smelled amazing I couldn’t really taste the flavor in the cake itself. The frosting had more brown butter flavor, but again it wasn’t prevalent enough to really make it worthwhile, particularly when the cream cheese kind of took over. In the future I’d probably use regular butter in the cake, at least.

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Autumn Leaf Tuiles

Despite my penchant for making decorative desserts, for some reason I’d never made tuiles before! This past Thanksgiving I figured it was time to remedy that, so to top a cake I decided to make a set of autumn-leaf tuiles. They turned out beautifully, so here’s the recipe. They’re not only beautiful, but they’re delicious as well!

One thing I noticed was that in order to get them really crisp, you need to let them bake long enough to brown slightly– otherwise they stay a bit soft and that’s not what you’re going for. Plus, the browning helped make my otherwise bright colors into more autumnal shades. At the end, I traced veins with edible paint made from gold highlighter dust and vodka, but you could use melted chocolate, or a mixture of cocoa and water, or really anything you like.

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Cranberry Cheesecake Tart

This Thanksgiving I volunteered to make dessert (of course), and in addition to a fancy pumpkin cake (you’ll see it soon!) I wanted to make something else for a little contrast. This sweet and tangy cranberry cheesecake tart was just the thing– the tart cranberries are nicely balanced by the creamy cheesecake, and the crumble topping adds a little textural interest.

I originally made this by using a mixer for the cheesecake filling and doing the crust by hand, but like my Berry Cheesecake Galette I’ll bet you could do both in the food processor to make it go faster. Plus, it travels well, can be served at any temperature, and I’ve been known to grab a slice for breakfast as well as dessert– hey, it has fruit in it, right?

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No Knead Pizza Dough

I’ll admit, I usually buy my pizza dough in bags from the grocery store. It’s just so much easier than making it from scratch, and it’s immediately ready to use with no kneading or rising required. But sometimes the stars align and you have a bunch of pizza toppings wasting away in the refrigerator and no dough in sight, so it’s time to make your own.

I’m still lazy enough to want to avoid kneading, though, so I chose a no-knead recipe from Jim Lahey that develops gluten through a long rise instead. I mixed up my dough in the morning and left it on the counter all day– when I got back from work in the evening it hadn’t quite doubled (surprising since it was pretty warm in my house) but it was soft and silky, and easy to work with.

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