Baking Chez Moi – Vanilla-Mango Panna Cotta

Panna cotta sounds elegant and difficult, but it’s only one of those things. Unlike its more temperamental cousin, custard, it doesn’t need monitoring. As long as you soften the gelatin in cold water, then stir it into hot cream until it dissolves, its really just a matter of waiting until it sets in the fridge.

And once you know that the gelatin does all the heavy lifting, it’s hard not make panna cotta a habit. Especially since the variations are seemingly endless. There’s a multitude of recipes out there, with variations on flavour, presentation, and accompaniments.

This version was particularly refreshing at the end of a hot day. Dorie layers vanilla panna cotta atop a mango and lime purée. Eating it made me feel like I’d been transported to a tropical hotel. Looking at it made me feel like running over to Gourmet Warehouse and picking up some glass ramekins or tiny Weck jars.

I love my ramekins – they’re pretty and they’ve served me well. But, they’re totally wrong for presenting this dessert. It’s meant to be admired even before you spoon into it. I probably don’t need more ramekins, so next time I make this, I’ll unmold the panna cotta onto a plate and garnish it with a generous amount of the purée. Or, I could go shopping, ignoring the fact that I live in a small apartment and I have a very long wish list of kitchen items.

We’ll see.

And since it’s a Catch Up Friday, I thought I’d mention that I have indeed made the Crispy-Topped Brown Sugar Bars. I posted about them in a French Fridays post in April.

Crispy Topped Brown Sugar Bars

They were fantastic, but I’m afraid to make them again, as they might disappear before I share them with anyone else.

You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this recipe here: Vanilla-Mango Panna Cotta.

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Baking Chez Moi – Rhubarb Upside Down Brown Sugar Cake

Slice of rhubarb cake

Rhubarb is one of my favourite spring treats and it seems that there are an infinite number of ways to use it. Savoury, sweet, roasted, baked, stewed – the only difficulty is keeping a steady enough supply to try them all. Inevitably, though, the recipes I come back to are the ones that treat it simply and let it shine.

This cake belongs on that list. I’ll have made it several times before rhubarb season is through. I made it for the first time in April, in the midst of a sort of Caramel-palooza. Caramelizing the topping before putting it in the oven gives it an extra richness, beyond that achieved by sprinkling brown sugar and pats of butter on the bottom of the pan (as nice as that is). And the cake itself would be good with just about any topping.

Slice of rhubarb

I haven’t found time to drop into this group much since we started Baking Chez Moi, but now that French Fridays with Dorie is wrapping up Around My French Table, I suspect you’ll be seeing a bit more of me. I look forward to baking more often with all of you.

You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this recipe here: Rhubarb Upside Down Brown Sugar Cake.

Baking Chez Moi – Brown Butter and Vanilla Bean Weekend Cake

Brown Butter and Vanilla Bean Weekend Cake

There are many reasons why I love to bake, but eating what I bake isn’t at the top of my list. Don’t misunderstand me, I love baked goods and I think homemade ones are the best. But sharing what I bake rates higher for me, as does the act of baking itself. There’s something calming about the methodical nature of baking and something satisfying about the progression of a baking project. And though tasting is the final step in this progression, it’s the aroma of something delicious in the oven that’s really the sensory payoff for me.

This is especially true of this week’s Baking Chez Moi assignment. From the moment I started scraping the pulp from the vanilla pod, my home smelled wonderful. After the butter browned, the aroma was heady. By the time the loaf came out of the oven, it was intoxicating. I felt it was very unfair that I’d read Dorie’s comment that the loaf improves after a day’s rest, because I really wanted to slice into that cake immediately. Actually, I wanted to set it in front of me on my desk. Who needs a bouquet when you can have the scent of this loaf perfuming your space, instead?

Well, wait I did and the cake rewarded me with a tender, sponge-like crumb and a gentle crispness at the edges. There is no need to spread butter on this loaf cake – browned butter is present in every bite. It would be good used as shortcake might be, covered in macerated berries and cream. Stale, it might be perfect in a parfait. Right now, though, I like it just as it is, eaten out of hand. I’m looking forward to trying it toasted in a day or two, as well. Then, I might break out just a little more butter.

You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this recipe here: Brown Butter and Vanilla Bean Weekend Cake.

Baking Chez Moi – Bûche de Noël

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My mother’s sister, Lorraine, always brought a bûche de Noël to Christmas dinner. They were traditional chocolate logs from a bakery, but I remember them as being rich, delicious, and perfect. She died when I was an adolescent and bûche de Noël was only an occasional part of our holiday celebrations thereafter, but they’ve been a symbol of the season for me ever since.

I’ve always wanted to make one, so I was happy that one of the recipes chosen for our second month of baking through Baking Chez Moi was Dorie’s Gingerbread Bûche de Noël.

There are a lot of steps in making this dish, but some of the most intimidating parts of the process are also surprisingly easy. The pecan praline wasn’t at all difficult, the cream cheese filling was a snap to whip together, and the marshmallow icing was quite straightforward, once I’d braced myself for the task of pouring hot liquid sugar into the bowl of a running mixer.

My particular Waterloo on this dessert was the making of the sponge. I can’t seem to get sponge cakes quite right. This one didn’t turn out horribly and was quite tasty, but as you can see in the photo below, the cake is about half the height it should be. The batter deflated a lot more than it should have when I folded the butter mixture in. I guess it’s just a matter of getting some more practice, but I admit I was disappointed.

Slice

Luckily, the filling and icing made the bûche look beautiful, even with the imperfections in the cake. I’m going to try again with sponge cake and I think one of my few resolutions for 2015 will be to conquer the roulade. Next year’s bûche will be looking much prettier, I swear.

You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this recipe here: Bûche de Noël. And you can find more Tuesdays with Dorie catch up posts at this link.

Baking Chez Moi – The Rugelach That Won Over France

Rugelach

I’ve made rugelach before, over at The Family That Bakes Together with my nieces, so I was curious to see how this recipe compared to that one. Those rugelach were filled with rich apricot lekvar, lots of cinnamon sugar, and a mix of fruit and nuts. My nieces also inadvertently rolled them along the short end, creating pinwheels which were huge – and a huge hit with everyone that tasted them.

So, I was curious to try Dorie’s chocolate version. I used a semisweet chocolate that was a little darker than was called for and substituted dried cranberries for the cherries, but otherwise stuck to the recipe. The dough was surprisingly easy to work with for something that soft, though getting the rolls started needed a little gentle help from my bench scraper. I left three of the rolls in the freezer and sliced and baked the other.

The oven I used seems to run a touch hot, so the rugelach were a bit browner on the bottom than I’d like. Next time, I’ll turn down the heat a touch and perhaps take them out sooner, too.

I was a little disappointed with them when I first tasted them – they seemed a bit dry and the flavours didn’t meld very well. But, the next day the leftovers were terrific. The flavour of the cream cheese dough became more pronounced and the filling was moist and delicious.

I still love the version we made for Baking With Julia best, but I think I’d like to have rolls of both kinds of rugelach in the freezer, to serve together. I’ll just bake this version a day ahead.

A very happy Chanukah to everyone who observes it! I hope these eight days are filled with food, family, and friends.

You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this recipe here: The Rugelach That Won Over France.

Baking Chez Moi – Cranberry Crackle Tart

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Our second Baking Chez Moi recipe is deceptively intricate looking. It’s a simple meringue tart on a pâte sablée base. It’s easy to put together, but the results are sophisticated in look and flavour. I made a gluten-free version of Dorie’s sweet tart dough for this one and as I’ve told you before, my gluten-free conversion of this dough needs a little refinement. The tender crust crumbled as I cut it, but it didn’t matter, because it tasted delicious. If I had been serving it for guests, I suppose I could have called it a cranberry meringue on sable cookie dirt and gotten bonus points for cheffiness. (Those of you who know me know I’d be too busy parsing my mistakes.)

I’ve got a disk of regular sweet tart dough in the freezer, so I’m going to make this again for the rest of my family during the holidays this year. In the meantime, Kevin and I are going to enjoy the leftovers of this one. The contrast between the tart cranberries and the sweet, melting meringue is wonderful, especially with the shards of cookie-ish crust.

If you’d like to try this tart for yourself, you can find the recipe on Dorie’s website. It’s a perfect, pretty dessert for the holiday table.

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You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this week’s recipe here: Cranberry Crackle Tart.

Baking Chez Moi – We Begin!

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There’s nothing like the excitement of a new book, is there? Especially one that you’ve been anticipating for a long while. I finally got my hands on such a book on November 2nd, when I headed down to Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks to pick up my copy of Dorie Greenspan‘s eleventh cookbook, Baking Chez Moi.

Dorie was in Vancouver for the only Canadian stop on her book tour and I was lucky enough to be able to attend the taping of her interview with CBC’s North by Northwest Cooking Club. (Some even luckier folks got to have dinner with her later that evening.) She told stories about living and baking in Paris and shared tips and tricks while she demonstrated putting together her Pink Grapefruit Tart from the book. CBC has posted the interview now, which you can find here.

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Meanwhile, the audience got to munch on miniature versions of the tart, while sipping Barbara-Jo’s signature tea blend. (If you think my idea of heaven would be listening to one of my culinary heroes, while munching on a delicious tart and sipping a cup of perfect tea, in a bookstore devoted to cookbooks – well, you’d be right.)

Pink Grapefruit Tart

After the interview, she fielded questions from the audience and engaged in some banter with her husband, Michael, who is accompanying her on the tour. His version of the stories she shared were sometimes a little different from hers and he quite charmingly interjected when he thought it was necessary.

Michael and Dorie

At the end, I introduced myself and Dorie gave me a big hug. It was lovely to finally meet her after cooking through Around My French Table with the French Fridays with Dorie group for the past four years.

Dorie

Which brings us to the first entry in Tuesdays with Dorie‘s newest project – baking through Baking Chez Moi. We’ll be posting together twice a month as we work our way through the book and I’m quite excited to be joining in. Just browsing through my copy of this cookbook left it bristling with bookmarked recipes, so I’m glad that TwD is here to provide me with some structure. (I’ve joined in with Tuesdays with Dorie before, along with my nieces, over at The Family That Bakes Together for some Baking with Julia assignments.)

PaletsdeDames

The recipe chosen to kick off the bake-a-long was Palets de Dames, Lille Style, a sweet, cake-y vanilla cookie topped with a shiny lemon glaze. I made these three weeks ago, when the French Fridays crew celebrated Dorie’s Birthday. I thought about making them again this week, but they are far too addictive. I will wait until I’m sure I have plenty of people to share them with.

I’m looking forward to reading through everyone’s posts and connecting with old friends and new through this new group. Our next assignment for Baking Chez Moi is in two weeks, when we tackle Dorie’s Cranberry Crackle Tart.

You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this week’s recipe here: Palets de Dames.