croissants 1 (tartine)


Someone must have told me “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” at a particularly impressionable age. Either that, or I’ve struggled through learning enough new subjects that I recognize the value of practice. Or maybe I’m just obsessive.


This was my first time making croissants, and it wasn’t perfect, which immediately sparked my desire to try a bunch of other croissant recipes. (Not side-by-side, mind you. My head spins just thinking about it.) The thing is that I can’t figure out exactly where I went wrong. I’m hoping that by gaining experience with different recipes, I’ll become more familiar with the process and pick up some nice tips along the way.


Of the recipes I’ve considered trying, this one is the most complex. First, a pre-ferment is made, two days before you want to bake the croissants. That gets turned into croissant dough the next day, and from there, most recipes are the same. Knead a little, then roll it out with a bunch of butter and fold it like a letter. Chill, then repeat the folding twice. Chill overnight. Roll out, cut, shape, rise, bake.


The author of the recipe, Elisabeth Prueitt, gives a lot of detail, turning my 60-word summary of the recipe into 5 pages of instructions, tips, and advice. She does not mention that the dough will be so elastic that it will fight you every time you have to roll it out, which makes me think I did something wrong. (Overkneading is my guess.) She also does not say anything about a huge pool of butter left behind in the baking pan after the croissants are removed from the oven. And I’m guessing the yeasty flavor of the croissants isn’t right either. And clearly they’re not supposed to look like this:


The croissants were still way better than edible – flaky, light, buttery delicious – but clearly my technique needs some refining. After I made this recipe, I was chomping at the bit to try another, and in fact, I have a handful of recipes I want to try. (Although one of them was the recipe that the Daring Bakers made a few years ago – which I just realized is this one. So never mind that one.) Expect to see reviews of one croissant recipe after another as I attempt to master this pastry.


One year ago: Snickery Squares

Croissants (from Tartine by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson)

¾ cup non-fat milk (6 ounces/150 ml)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast (15ml)
1⅓ cup all-purpose flour (6¼ ounces/175g)

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon active dry yeast (20ml)
1¾ cup whole milk (14 ounces/425 ml)
6 cups all-purpose flour (28 ounces/800g)
⅓ cup sugar (2½ ounces/70g)
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon salt (20 ml)
1 tablespoons unsalted butter (15ml)

Roll-in butter:
2¾ cup unsalted butter (22 ounces/625 g)

Egg wash:
4 large egg yolks (2 ounces/60 ml)
¼ cup heavy cream
pinch salt

To Make the Preferment:

In a small saucepan, warm the milk to take the chill off (between 80° to 90 °F). Pour the milk into a mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the milk, stir to dissolve the yeast with a wooden spoon, and then add the flour, mixing with a wooden spoon until a smooth batter forms. Cover the bowl with cheesecloth and let the mixture rise until almost double in volume, 2 to 3 hours at moderate temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.

To Make the Dough:

First measure out all your ingredients and keep them near at hand. Transfer the preferment and then the yeast to the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed until the yeast is incorporated into the preferment batter, which will take a minute or two. Stop the mixer as needed and use a spatula to clean the bottom and sides of the bowl, folding the loosened portion into the mixture to incorporate all the elements fully. When the mixture has come together into an even, well-mixed mass, increase the speed to medium, and mix for a couple of minutes. Slowly add half of the milk and continue to mix until the milk is fully incorporated.

Reduce the speed to low, add the flour, sugar, salt, melted butter, and the rest of the milk, and mix until the mass comes together in a loose dough, about 3 minutes. Turn off the mixer and let the dough rest for 15 to 20 minutes. This resting period helps to shorten the final mixing phase, which comes next.

Engage the mixer again on low speed and mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, a maximum of 4 minutes. If the dough is very firm, add a little milk, 1 tablespoon at a time. Take care not to overmix the dough, which will result in a tough croissant that also turns stale more quickly. Remember, too, you will be rolling out the dough several times, which will further develop the gluten structure, so though you want a smooth dough, the less mixing you do to achieve that goal, the better. Cover the bowl with cheesecloth and let the dough rise in a cool place until the volume increases by half, about 1½ hours.

Lightly flour a work surface. Transfer the dough to the floured surface and press into a rectangle 2 inches thick. Wrap the rectangle in plastic wrap, or slip it into a plastic bag and seal closed. Place the dough in the refrigerator to chill for 4 to 6 hours.

To Make the Roll-in butter:

About 1 hour before you are ready to start laminating the dough, put the butter that you will be rolling into the dough in the bowl of the mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until malleable but not warm or soft, about 3 minutes. Remove the butter from the bowl, wrap in plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator to chill but not resolidify.

Laminating the dough:

Lightly dust a cool work surface, and then remove the chilled dough and the butter from the refrigerator. Unwrap the dough and place it on the floured surface. Roll out the dough into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches. With the long side of the rectangle facing you, and starting from the left side, spread and spot the butter over two-thirds of the length of the rectangle. Fold the uncovered third over the butter and then fold the left-hand third over the center, as if folding a business letter. The resulting rectangle is known as a plaque. With your fingers, push down along the seams on the top and the bottom to seal in the plaque.

Second turn:

Give the plaque a quarter turn so the seams are to your right and left, rather than at the top and bottom. Again, roll out the dough into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches, and fold again in the same manner. Wrap in plastic wrap or slip into a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator for 1½ to 2 hours to relax the gluten in the dough before you make the third fold, or “turn”.

Third turn:

Clean the work surface, dust again with flour, and remove the dough from the refrigerator. Unwrap, place on the floured surface, and again roll out into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches. Fold into thirds in the same manner. You should have a plaque of dough measuring about 9 by 12 inches, about the size of a quarter sheet pan, and 1½ to 2 inches thick. Wrap in plastic wrap or slip into the plastic bag, place on a quarter sheet pan, and immediately place in the freezer to chill for at least 1 hour. If you intend to make the croissants the next morning, leave the dough in the freezer until the evening and then transfer it to the refrigerator before retiring. The next morning, the dough will be ready to roll out and form into croissants, proof, and bake. Or, you can leave the dough in the freezer for up to 1 week; just remember to transfer it to the refrigerator to thaw overnight before using.

Making the croissant:

When you are ready to roll out the dough, dust the work surface again. Roll out the dough into a rectangle 32 by 12 inches and 3/8 inches thick. Using a pizza wheel or chef’s knife, cut the dough into long triangles that measure 10 to 12 inches on each side and about 4 inches along the base.

Line a half sheet pan (about 13 by 18 inches) with parchment paper. To shape each croissant, position a triangle with the base facing you. Positioning your palms on the two outer points of the base, carefully rolling the base toward the point. To finish, grab the point with one hand, stretching it slightly, and continue to roll, tucking the point underneath the rolled dough so that the croissant will stand tall when you place it on the sheet pan. If you have properly shaped the croissant, it will have 6 or 7 ridges.
As you form the croissants, place them, well-spaced, on the prepared half-sheet pan. When all the croissants are on the pan, set the pan in a draft-free area with relatively high humidity, and let the pastries rise for 2 to 3 hours. The ideal temperature is 75 °F. A bit cooler or warmer is all right, as long as the temperature is not warm enough to melt the layers of butter in the dough, which would yield greasy pastries. Cooler is preferable and will increase the rising time and with it the flavor development. For example, the home oven (turned off) with a pan of steaming water placed in the bottom is a good place for proofing leavened baked items. To make sure that no skin forms on the pastries during this final rising, refresh the pan of water halfway through the rising.

During this final rising, the croissants should at least double in size and look noticeably puffy. If when you press a croissant lightly with a fingertip, the indentation fills in slowly, the croissants are almost ready to bake. At this point, the croissants should still be slightly “firm” and holding their shape and neither spongy nor starting to slouch. If you have put the croissants into the oven to proof, remove them now and set the oven to 425 °F to preheat for 20 to 30 minutes.

About 10 minutes before you are ready to bake the croissants, make the egg wash. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cream, and salt until you have a pale yellow mixture. Using a pastry brush, lightly and carefully brush the yolk mixture on the pastries, being careful not to allow the egg wash to drip onto the pan. Let the wash dry slightly, about 10 minutes, before baking.

Place the croissants into the oven, immediately turn down the oven temperature to 400 °F, and leave the door shut for the first 10 minutes. Then working quickly, open the oven door, rotate the pan 180 degrees, and close the door. This rotation will help the pastries to bake evenly. Bake for 6 to 10 minutes longer, rotating the pan again during this time if the croissants do not appear to be baking evenly. The croissants should be done in 15 to 20 minutes total. They are ready when they are a deep golden brown on the top and bottom, crisp on the outside and light when they are picked up, indicating that the interior is cooked through.

Remove the croissants from the oven and place them on a wire rack to cool. As they cool, their moist interiors will set up. They are best if eaten while they are still slightly warm. If they have just cooled to room temperature, they are fine as well, or you can rewarm them in a 375°F oven for 6 to 8 minutes to recrisp them before serving. You can also store leftover croissants in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 day, and then afterward in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If you have stored them, recrisp them in the oven before serving.


vanilla bean caramels


This was the caramel recipe that accompanied last month’s Daring Baker cake. I had no intention of making it, especially since I just barely got the cake made by the posting date. But then it seemed like everyone who made the caramels was raving about them, and I had never actually made caramels before, so I added them to my list of candy to make.


None of the candy recipes I made last week were particularly difficult or time-consuming, including this one, but on the other hand, the brittle is the only one that I would actually call easy. For the caramels, sugar and corn syrup are mixed and heated, then cream is added and the mixture is cooked some more.


One problem I had is that it took far longer than I expected for the caramel to reach the desired temperature after the cream was added. This wasn’t detrimental to the outcome, but it certainly would have been nice to have some guidelines in the recipe.


My other issue was that the caramels are chewier than I’d like. I took the mixture off the heat at 263F. The recipe recommends 260F for soft caramels, but I’m not sure even that’s as soft as I want – I’m thinking something between 250-260F might give me the texture I’m looking for, but it’s hard to say since this is my first time making caramels.


My absolute least favorite part of the recipe was this seemingly innocent step: “Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.” Oh so tedious.


But worth it in the end. The caramels tasted very good. Rich but not cloyingly sweet. Of all the candy I sent to my family for Christmas, this is the only one I’m confident that everyone will like.


Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels (adapted from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert)

Makes 80 1-inch caramels

1 cup light syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
1½ teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened

1. Line the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the light corn syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach a candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

2. When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260F for soft, chewy caramels or 265F for firmer chewy caramels.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.

4. Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.


caramel cake


This will be my last Daring Baker entry. I’ve enjoyed being a member for the past year, and I learned something useful from every single recipe I’ve made for the group. However, between Tuesdays with Dorie and the Daring Bakers, the assigned baking recipes are starting to overwhelm me. I came really close to not making this cake, simply because I had pumpkin pie left from Thanksgiving, plus four types of cookies and two types of cupcakes in the freezer. I just couldn’t justify putting much time into making a dessert that we really didn’t need.


However, Erin convinced me that the recipe wasn’t difficult, and that I should be able to scale it back without adverse affects. (Based on warnings from this month’s hosts, Dolores, Alex, and Jenny, I was concerned that the recipe was going to be finicky.) She was right. This cake required only a little more time than an average cake recipe.


Plus a little extra effort for me, because I screwed up the caramel syrup the first time. The only times I have ever had a problem with caramel are this cake and the filbert gateau – I don’t know what it is with Daring Baker recipes and crystallized caramel. The second time I made the syrup, I doubled the amount of water I added with the sugar and tweaked the cooking method just a little. I left the amount of water at the end the same, under the assumption that all of the water that’s added with the sugar evaporates before the sugar starts to caramelize. This time I made a nice smooth caramel.


I considered skipping the frosting, but I don’t have much experience with browned butter, so I wanted to try it. It was interesting – it had an unusual texture. I didn’t add all of the powdered sugar, and I found that no amount of the caramel syrup was going to give me the smoothness I was hoping for, so I ended up adding a fair amount of heavy cream. Even then, the frosting was kind of dry and greasy at the same time. I couldn’t seem to spread it on the cake; I ended up using my fingers to pat it down.


The cake was great. A nice fluffy, even texture, with a flavor reminiscent of my favorite pound cake. The frosting wasn’t bad, although it just didn’t seem quite right. Still, I’m glad I took the time to make this cake, and I’m glad I was a member of the Daring Bakers for the previous year. It was a fun and valuable experience.


Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting (adapted slightly from Shuna Fish Lydon for Baking Bites)

Makes 12 servings

Caramel Syrup:
2 cups sugar
1½ cup water, separated

1. In a small stainless steel saucepan with tall sides, mix ½ cup water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until dark amber and smoking slightly.

2. Very carefully pour in remaining 1 cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about.

3. Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers.

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

Caramel Cake:
10 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1¼ cups granulated sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup Caramel Syrup (recipe follows)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan. Sift flour and baking powder.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy. Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform. Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

3. Place cake pan on cookie sheet or half-sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Caramelized Butter Frosting:
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

1. Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

2. Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner’s sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner’s sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste. (Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month. To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light.)


peter reinhart’s pizza

This makes two Daring Baker recipes in a row that were already on my mental to-do list. It’s perfect because otherwise who knows when I actually would have gotten around to making them. I would have been making my standard pizza recipe, too lazy to try this new one which I’ve heard great things about, and wondering if mine is as good as it gets.

I’ve been using Cooks Illustrated’s crust recipe for years, which has the same ingredients as Peter Reinhart’s in only slightly different proportions. I started adding some sugar and white wine to it after Deb discussed it, and I found that my crust was a little more light, crisp and bubbly, which I liked.

But the CI recipe hasn’t always been perfect for me. Lately when I try to stretch it out, it has a tendency to rip, even when the dough is warm enough and risen completely. It’s not an elasticity issue either – it’s not like the dough is bouncing back on itself when I try to stretch it out.

One of the keys to Reinhart’s recipe is that he uses very cold water in the dough, then refrigerates the dough immediately after kneading, similar to his pain a l’ancienne. To be honest, I usually do this – albeit somewhat half-assed – with CI’s recipe, just because it’s more convenient for me to make the dough the night before I want it for dinner.

The biggest difference between the two recipes is that Reinhart mixes and kneads his dough with a stand mixer, while CI uses a food processor.  Despite the similarity between CI’s and Reinhart’s recipes, their outcomes were relatively distinct. Reinhart’s dough did not rip – it seemed capable of stretching to infinite lengths. Rosa, this month’s host, requested that we take a photo of the dough being tossed and spun, but this dough was so floppy, there’s no way I was going to chance throwing it around the kitchen.

Baked, the pizza wasn’t very different from my normal recipe. In fact, Dave didn’t notice that I had changed it. However, it wasn’t quite as crispy, and it wasn’t substantial enough to hold up my toppings, even though I don’t think I overloaded it. I think I might have gone overboard in making it thin.

I think in the future, I’ll stick with the ingredient proportions from CI’s recipe, adding the the sugar and white wine. However, I’ll use Reinhart’s method of preparing the dough with the stand mixer and using refrigerated ingredients. Hopefully this way I’ll get the best of both worlds. It’ll be a while before I have a chance to try it though, because right now, I have a half recipe of both doughs in my freezer.

Update: At some point I’ll get around to posting my method for making pizza (exact crust instructions, sauce, etc.), but I want to do some refining first.  In the meantime, you can find blog entries on Cooks Illustrated’s basic recipe here, here and here.

Basic Pizza Dough (adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart)

Makes 6 pizza crusts, about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter.

4½ cups flour (bread, high-gluten, or all-purpose), chilled
1¾ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
¼ cup olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it’s better with)
1¾ cups water, ice cold (40 degrees)
1 tablespoon sugar
cornmeal for dusting

1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl or stand mixer. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (spoon or paddle attachment) to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth. If it is too wet, add a little flour and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water. If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour. If it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water. The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.

2. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper. Cut the dough into 4-6 equal pieces. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil and cover with plastic wrap.

3. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days. NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil (a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.

4. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

5. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C). If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

6. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Take 1 piece and lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss. Make only one pizza at a time. During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping. In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again.You can also resort to using a rolling pin.

7. When the dough has the shape you want, place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

8. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for about 5-8 minutes.

lavash crackers (daring bakers)

This is the first Daring Baker recipe that has not only been from a cookbook I own, but was a recipe that I had planned to make soon anyway. Since football season started a few weeks ago, I’ve made Sunday into a snack day instead of serving an actual meal, which gives me a chance to play around with appetizer and dip recipes that I normally can’t (healthily) work into our routine.

The recipe itself was pretty simple. This is a rare recipe for Peter Reinhart in that it doesn’t require a pre-ferment, so the recipe can be completed in one day. The dough was easy to work with. I rolled it out right on my silicone baking mat, and then just moved the mat to a baking pan to bake it, so I never had to transfer just the sheet of dough.

I think Reinhart’s directions on rolling out the dough are off. I rolled the dough out to exactly the dimensions he recommends, but my “crackers” ended up far too thick. Reinhart refers to the rolled-out dough as “paper-thin” at one point, and mine certainly wasn’t. In the future, I’ll roll the dough out possibly twice as thin, so they’re more like crackers and less like little toasts.

I cheated on the dip. After I made it, I saw in the rules that we were supposed to make something that was gluten-free and vegan, but my pesto dip is based on goat cheese. But it’s so good! I have no regrets on breaking the rules if I get something so tasty out of it.

This challenge was a fun one – I always enjoy making yeast breads, and as I said, I’d been interested in this recipe for a while. The hosts this month, Natalie and Shel, also give directions for a gluten-free version, which I may try for my gluten-intolerant grandmother next time I see her. I’m always on the lookout for good gluten-free recipes.

Lavash Crackers (from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers

1½ cups (6.75 ounces) unbleached bread flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp instant yeast
1 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
⅓ to ½ cup + 2 tablespoons (3 to 4 ounces) water, at room temperature
Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings

1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, sugar, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. You may not need the full ½ cup + 2 tablespoons of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.

2. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

3. Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).

4. Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax. At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment. If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.) Be careful with spices and salt – a little goes a long way. If you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking. If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.

5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).

6. When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.

Pesto Goat Cheese Spread (from Gourmet September 2002, but really

4 ounces soft mild goat cheese at room temperature
2 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
¼ cup pesto

Stir together all ingredients with salt and pepper to taste until smooth.

eclairs (daring bakers)

I was happy about Tony and Meeta’s choice of Chocolate Eclairs for this month’s Daring Baker recipe because I actually have some experience making éclairs, but I haven’t found a recipe that’s convinced me to use it faithfully. And because I’m somewhat confident in my éclair-making ability, I was comfortable tweaking the recipe.

When I was in college, there was a dessert shop nearby that made the best mini-cream puffs. My friends and I went there at least once per week, and sometimes I would bypass all of the beautiful and tempting cakes and pies so that I could have just a pile of little cream puffs. But usually I would get a wonderful slice of chocolate layer cake with a cream puff on the side. I could never resist those cream puffs. Those mini-cream puffs are what I strived to recreate with this recipe.

I used the chocolate glaze recipe suggested by Tony and Meeta.  The glaze was very good, although the recipe is perhaps unnecessarily complicated, requiring a chocolate sauce to be made first, which is then used as an ingredient in the chocolate glaze. I’m assuming this is only because Pierre Herme assumes that anyone who owns his book Chocolate Desserts will keep a supply of the chocolate sauce around. It was a good glaze, and I may use it in the future, but I’ll condense the steps to bypass the separate sauce-making process.

I used a raspberry pastry cream filling instead of the chocolate pastry cream that Herme suggests. While I suppose that all’s well that ends well, it’s not a recipe that I would recommend to others. I simply took my favorite vanilla pastry cream recipe and mixed in raspberry puree at the end. Unfortunately, there was too much puree and the pastry cream never set. I tried some other stuff, but ultimately I had to dissolve some gelatin in half-and-half and mix that in to stabilize the cream enough to be piped.

One thing I’ve never liked about regular-sized cream puffs and éclairs is how they have to be cut in half, filled, and stuck back together. I wanted to fill my miniature cream puffs without cutting them open, so I put my pastry cream into a bag with a simple round tip and squeezed pastry cream into the cream puffs through a small hole in the bottom. It wasn’t completely successful – the inside of the cream puffs were often split into two or more large portions, and only one portion got filled with this method. I think I could also squirt pastry cream into the cream puff from a hole in the top, which will then be covered with glaze.

These were the best cream puffs I’ve ever made. I do want to tweak the dough recipe, and obviously the pastry cream was kind of a bust, but they were the perfect size and so easy to eat. Every time I’ve made éclairs I’ve gotten better at it, and I hope next time it’ll be just perfect.

Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs (adapted from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé, except for the pastry cream, which is adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

The pastry cream didn’t work out. But I already had the recipe written down and don’t want redo it.

Makes 20-24 eclairs

Cream Puff Dough:
½ cup (125g) whole milk
½ cup (125g) water
1 stick (4 ounces; 115 g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
¼ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup (140 g) all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature

Raspberry Pastry Cream:
6 ounces raspberries
2 cups half-and-half
½ cup granulated sugar
pinch table salt
5 large egg yolks,
3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold), cut into 4 pieces
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Chocolate Sauce:
0.9 oz (26 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 tablespoons (50 g) water
5 teaspoons (25 g) crème fraîche or heavy cream
1 tablespoon (14 g) sugar

Chocolate Glaze:
⅓ cup (80 g) heavy cream
3½ ounce (100 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 teaspoon (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
7 tablespoon (110 g) Chocolate Sauce, warm or at room temperature

For the éclairs:
1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Divide the oven into thirds by
positioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with
waxed or parchment paper.

2. In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the boil.

3. Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough will be very soft and smooth.

4. Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your hand mixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough. You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon. (Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately. Or, you can pipe the dough and the freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer the piped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.

5. Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3-inch (2cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough. Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 4½ inches (about 11 cm) chubby fingers. Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff. The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.

6. Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep it ajar. When the éclairs have been in the oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking time should be approximately 20 minutes. (The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.)

For the pastry cream:
7. While the éclairs are baking, set a mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Add the raspberries to the strainer and use a spoon to mash them and press them through the strainer to create a seedless raspberry puree.

8. Heat half-and-half, 6 tablespoons sugar, and salt in medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until simmering, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar.

9. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks in medium bowl until thoroughly combined. Whisk in remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and whisk until sugar has begun to dissolve and mixture is creamy, about 15 seconds. Whisk in cornstarch until combined and mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 30 seconds.

10. When half-and-half mixture reaches full simmer, gradually whisk simmering half-and-half into yolk mixture to temper. Return mixture to saucepan, scraping bowl with rubber spatula; return to simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until 3 or 4 bubbles burst on surface and mixture is thickened and glossy, about 30 seconds. Off heat, whisk in butter and vanilla. Strain the pastry cream through a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl. Stir in the raspberry puree. Press plastic wrap directly on surface, and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 3 hours or up to 48 hours.

For the chocolate sauce:
11. Place all the ingredients into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens.

12. It may take 10-15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon. (You can make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for two weeks. Reheat the sauce in a microwave oven or a double boiler before using.)

For the chocolate glaze:
13. In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.

14. Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece, followed by the chocolate sauce. (If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly in the microwave or over a double boiler.)

For the assembly:
15. Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside the bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper.

16. The glaze should be barely warm to the touch (between 95 – 104 degrees F or 35 – 40 degrees C, as measured on an instant read thermometer). Spread the glaze over the tops of the éclairs using a metal icing spatula. Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill the bottoms with the pastry cream.

17. Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the bottoms with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream and wriggle gently to settle them.

18. The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.

filbert gateau with praline buttercream (daring bakers)

There were a lot of similarities between the Filbert Gateau that Chris chose for this month’s Daring Baker challenge and the opera cake we made a few months ago. This works out well for me, because I could definitely use the cake-building practice. And I don’t know if I’m getting better at this whole baking thing or what, but this cake came together quite nicely for me.

I made the entire opera cake, from start to finish, in one day. I thought it would be fun, and while there were fun aspects, by the end, I never wanted to bake again (for two days). This time I got smart and did at least a small portion of the recipe ahead of time. There was still a good amount of baking to be done on the final day – most of the cake, the buttercream, the ganache, and the assembly, but it was manageable and fun.

The only part of the recipe that gave me fits was the praline. I have made caramel so many times before with nary a problem. But this time, I screwed it up four times in a row. I tried different methods, but each time, sugar crystals formed, interrupting my smooth caramel. I never did get it right – on the last attempt, there were only a few crystals in the liquid, and I decided that it would be a good learning experience for me to see what a screwed-up caramel was like. (How’s that for justification?) It turns out that screwed-up caramel is opaque and looks milky instead of being shiny and amber-colored and jewel-like. The taste was fine though, and I was grinding a good portion of it into paste anyway.

Everything else went smoothly. This was my most successful experience with these light egg-leavened cakes. But cutting the cake into layers created a lot of crumbs. I think I’ve heard that if I refrigerate or partially freeze the cake (wrapped well with plastic, I assume), it makes this process easier with no detrimental effects on the cake? Is this true?

This is the first time I’ve covered a cake with chocolate ganache. It’s not as smooth on the sides as I’d prefer, which I think is because my cake had fallen in the middle just a bit, so a lot of the ganache pooled there and there wasn’t as much to cover the sides. Even with my less-than-perfect coating, I think ganache makes for an impressive presentation.

Dave and I both enjoyed the flavor of the cake as well. The unsweetened whipped cream in between layers kept the cake from being too sweet, and the bittersweet chocolate was the perfect contrast to the sweet cake and buttercream. The cake wasn’t as praliney as I might have liked though. I wonder if I could mix in more praline paste with the buttercream? In the end though, this was a great learning experience and a lot of fun, with tasty results.

Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream (from Great Cakes, by Carol Walter)

Makes 1 10-inch cake, about 12 servings

1 Filbert Genoise
1 recipe sugar syrup, flavored with dark rum
1 recipe Praline Buttercream
½ cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
1 recipe Apricot Glaze
1 recipe Ganache Glaze, prepared just before using

Filbert Genoise
Because of the amount of nuts in the recipe, this preparation is different from a classic genoise.

1½ cups hazelnuts, toasted/skinned
⅔ cup (2.65 ounces) cake flour, unsifted
2 tablespoons cornstarch
7 large egg yolks
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar, divided ¼ and ¾ cups
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon grated lemon rind
5 large egg whites
¼ cup warm, clarified butter (100 – 110 degrees)

Position rack in the lower 3rd of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10″ X 2″ inch round cake pan.

Using a food processor, process nuts, cake flour, and cornstarch for about 30 seconds. Then, pulse the mixture about 10 times to get a fine, powdery mixture. You’ll know the nuts are ready when they begin to gather together around the sides of the bowl. While you want to make sure there aren’t any large pieces, don’t over-process. Set aside.

Put the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, and beat until thick and light in color, about 3-4 minutes on med-high speed. Slowly, add ¾ cup of sugar. It is best to do so by adding a tablespoon at a time, taking about 3 minutes for this step. When finished, the mixture should be ribbony. Blend in the vanilla and grated lemon rind. Remove and set aside.

Place egg whites in a large, clean bowl of the electric mixer with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed, until soft peaks. Increase to med-high speed and slowly add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, over 15-20 seconds or so. Continue to beat for another ½ minute. Add the yolk mixture to the whites and whisk for 1 minute.

Pour the warm butter in a liquid measure cup (or a spouted container). Put the nut meal in a mesh strainer (or use your hand – working quickly) and sprinkle it in about 2 tablespoons at a time – folding it carefully for about 40 folds. Be sure to exclude any large chunks/pieces of nuts. Again, work quickly and carefully as to not deflate the mixture. When all but about 2 tablespoons of nut meal remain, quickly and steadily pour the warm butter over the batter. Then, with the remaining nut meal, fold the batter to incorporate, about 13 or so folds.

With a rubber spatula, transfer the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface with the spatula or back of a spoon. (If collected butter remains at the bottom of the bowl, do not add it to the batter! It will impede the cake rising while baking.)

Tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. You’ll know the cake is done when it is springy to the touch and it separates itself from the side of the pan. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Invert onto a cake rack sprayed with nonstick coating, removing the pan. Cook the cake completely.

*If not using the cake right away, wrap thoroughly in plastic wrap, then in a plastic bag, then in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If freezing, wrap in foil, then the bag and use within 2-3 months.

Sugar Syrup
Makes 1 cup, good for one 10-inch cake – split into 3 layers

1 cup water
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum or orange flavored liqueur

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add the liqueur. Cool slightly before using on the cake. *Can be made in advance.

Praline Buttercream
1 recipe Swiss Buttercream
⅓ cup praline paste
1½-2 tablespoons Jamaican rum (optional)

Blend ½ cup buttercream into the paste, then add to the remaining buttercream. Whip briefly on medium-low speed to combine. Blend in rum.

Swiss Buttercream
4 large egg whites
¾ cup sugar
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
1½-2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or liqueur of your choice
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a electric mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until the whites are foamy and they begin to thicken (just before the soft peak stage). Set the bowl over a saucepan filled with about 2 inches of simmering water, making sure the bowl is not touching the water. Then, whisk in the sugar by adding 1-2 tablespoons of sugar at a time over a minutes time. Continue beating 2-3 minutes or until the whites are warm (about 120 degrees) and the sugar is dissolved. The mixture should look thick and like whipped marshmallows.

Remove from pan and with either the paddle or whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and sugar on medium-high speed until it’s a thick, cool meringue – about 5-7 minutes. (Do not overbeat). Set aside.

Place the butter in a separate clean mixing bowl and, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter at medium speed for 40-60 seconds, or until smooth and creamy. (Do not overbeat or the butter will become too soft.)

On medium-low speed, blend the meringue into the butter, about 1-2 tablespoons at a time, over about 1 minute. Add the liqueur and vanilla and mix for 30-45 seconds longer, until thick and creamy.

Refrigerate 10-15 minutes before using.

Wait! My buttercream won’t come together! Reheat the buttercream briefly over simmering water for about 5 seconds, stirring with a wooden spoon. Be careful and do not overbeat. The mixture will look broken with some liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Return the bowl to the mixer and whip on medium speed just until the cream comes back together.

Wait! My buttercream is too soft! Chill the buttercream in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes and rewhip. If that doesn’t work, cream an additional 2-4 tablespoons of butter in a small bowl – making sure the butter is not as soft as the original amount, so make sure is cool and smooth. On low speed, quickly add the creamed butter to the buttercream, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or can be frozen for up to 6 months. If freezing, store in 2 16-oz. plastic containers and thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for several hours.

Praline Paste
1 cup (4½ ounces) hazelnuts, toasted/skinless
⅔ cup (4.65 ounces) sugar

Line a jelly roll pan with parchment and lightly butter.

Put the sugar in a heavy 10-inch skillet. Heat on low flame for about 10-20 min until the sugar melts around the edges. Do not stir the sugar. Swirl the pan if necessary to prevent the melted sugar from burning. Brush the sides of the pan with water to remove sugar crystals. If the sugar in the center does not melt, stir briefly. When the sugar is completely melted and caramel in color, remove from heat. Stir in the nuts with a wooden spoon and separate the clusters. Return to low heat and stir to coat the nuts on all sides. Cook until the mixture starts to bubble. (Remember – extremely hot mixture.) Then onto the parchment lined sheet and spread as evenly as possible. As it cools, it will harden into brittle. Break the candied nuts into pieces and place them in the food processor. Pulse into a medium-fine crunch or process until the brittle turns into a powder. To make paste, process for several minutes. Store in an airtight container and store in a cook dry place. Do not refrigerate.

Apricot Glaze
Good for one 10-inch cake

⅔ cup thick apricot preserves
1 tablespoon water

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and preserves to a slow boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. If the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan, add water as needed.

Remove from heat and, using a strainer, press the mixture through the mesh and discard any remnants. With a pastry brush, apply the glaze onto the cake while the cake is still warm. If the glaze is too thick, thin to a preferred consistency with drops of water.

Ganache Glaze
Makes about 1 cup, enough to cover the top and sides of a 9 or 10 inch layer or tube cake

6 oz. (good) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, like Lindt
6 oz. (¾ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier, Cointreay, or dark Jamaican rum (optional)
¾ teaspoon vanilla
½ – 1 teaspoon hot water, if needed

Blend vanilla and liqueur/rum together and set aside.

Break the chocolate into 1-inch pieces and place in the basket of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer into a medium sized bowl and set aside.

Heat the cream and corn syrup in a saucepan, on low, until it reached a gentle boil. Once to the gently boil, immediately and carefully pour over the chocolate. Leave it alone for one minute, then slowly stir and mix the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream. Carefully blend in vanilla mixture. If the surface seems oily, add ½ – 1 teaspoon hot water. The glaze will thicken, but should still be pourable. If it doesn’t thicken, refrigerate for about 5 minutes, but make sure it doesn’t get too cold!

Assembling Cake

Cut a cardboard disk slightly smaller than the cake. Divide the cake into 3 layers and place the first layer top-side down on the disk. Using a pastry brush, moisten the layer with 3-4 tablespoon of warm sugar syrup. Measure out 1 cup of praline buttercream and set aside.

Spread the bottom layer with a ¼-inch thickness of the remaining buttercream. Cover with ½ of the whipped cream, leaving ¼-inch border around the edge of the cake. Place the middle layer over the first, brush with sugar syrup, spreading with buttercream. Cover with the remaining whipped cream.

Moisten the cut side of the third layer with additional sugar syrup and place cut side down on the cake. Gently, press the sides of the cake to align the layers. Refrigerate to chill for at least 30 minutes.

Lift the cake by sliding your palm under the cardboard. Holding a serrated or very sharp night with an 8-inch blade held parallel to the sides of the cake, trim the sides so that they are perfectly straight. Cut a slight bevel at the top to help the glaze drip over the edge. Brush the top and sides of the cake with warm apricot glaze, sealing the cut areas completely. Chill while you prepare the ganache.

Place a rack over a large shallow pan to catch the ganache drippings. Remove the gateau from the refrigerator and put it the rack. With a metal spatula in hand, and holding the saucepan about 10 inches above the cake, pour the ganache onto the cake’s center. Move the spatula over the top of the ganache about 4 times to get a smooth and mirror-like appearance. The ganache should cover the top and run down the sides of the cake. When the ganache has been poured and is coating the cake, lift one side of the rack and bang it once on the counter to help spread the ganache evenly and break any air bubbles. (Work fast before setting starts.) Patch any bare spots on the sides with a smaller spatula, but do not touch the top after the “bang”. Let the cake stand at least 15 minutes to set after glazing.


danish braids (daring bakers)

Wow, who knew making Danish dough would be so easy? I’d previously considered making some sort of laminated dough, Danish or croissants or the like, but the number of steps involved with those recipes made me think that it would be an intense project requiring the better part of a day.

Not so. While the dough needs some babysitting, each step of rolling the dough flat and folding it into thirds, repeated three times, takes only a minute or two.

And good thing, because I made two separate Danish doughs. After I quickly scanned the recipe near the beginning of the month, I started thinking about what I wanted to fill my Danishes with. I settled on a savory and a sweet version, and it wasn’t until a few days before the posting date, when I looked closer at the recipe, that I realized that the dough itself was sweet and might not be a good match for the red pepper, Italian sausage, and parmesan I’d planned to fill it with. So I made the dough twice, once as written (except leaving out the cardamom, orange zest, and vanilla bean due to laziness) to be filled with cherries and almonds, and another time, reducing the sugar, increasing the salt, replacing the orange juice with water, and eliminating the vanilla extract.

I was very happy with both the sweet and the savory breads. I thought the dough might be flakier than it was, but perhaps this was due to the heat in my kitchen when I was working with the dough. Maybe the butter melted into the dough instead of remaining as separate layers. Or maybe that’s just how this dough is. Regardless, it was very tender. I did think that it needed a bit more salt, and this is something I’ll take into account in the future.

Overall, this was a great learning experience. Now that I know what’s involved with making a laminated dough, I feel much more confident trying similar recipes, like croissants and puff pastry.

Danish Braids

This is the recipe as I made it. You can find the original recipe at this month’s hosts’ sites.

Sweet Danish Dough:
¾ teaspoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons whole milk
1½ tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ large eggs, chilled
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
4 ounces all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt

Savory Danish Dough:
¾ teaspoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon sugar
½ large eggs, chilled
1 tablespoon water
4 ounces all-purpose flour
1/3 teaspoon salt

For the butter block (Beurrage)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

For the dough: Combine yeast and milk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed. Slowly add sugar, vanilla extract, egg, and orange juice. Mix well. Change to the dough hook and add the salt with the flour, 1 cup at a time, increasing speed to medium as the flour is incorporated. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until smooth. You may need to add a little more flour if it is sticky. Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

For the butter block: Combine butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and then beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Divide in two and set aside at room temperature.

2. After the dough has chilled 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 9 x 6.5 inches and ¼ inch thick. The dough may be sticky, so keep dusting it lightly with flour. Spread the butter evenly over the center and right thirds of the dough. Fold the left edge of the dough to the right, covering half of the butter. Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn has now been completed. Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns, or use a sticky and keep a tally. Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3. Place the dough lengthwise on a floured work surface. The open ends should be to your right and left. Roll the dough into another approximately 6.5 x 9 inch, ¼-inch-thick rectangle. Again, fold the left third of the rectangle over the center third and the right third over the center third. No additional butter will be added as it is already in the dough. The second turn has now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

4. Roll out, turn, and refrigerate the dough two more times, for a total of four single turns. Make sure you are keeping track of your turns. Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight. The Danish dough is now ready to be used. If you will not be using the dough within 24 hours, freeze it. To do this, roll the dough out to about 1 inch in thickness, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. Defrost the dough slowly in the refrigerator for easiest handling. Danish dough will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Cherry filling:
1 can cherries, drained, ¼ cup juice reserved
1.5-2 tablespoons sugar
½ tablespoon cornstarch
pinch salt
drop almond extract
¾ teaspoon brandy
toasted almonds

Stir sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in saucepan. Whisk in reserved cherry juice and wine. Cook, whisking frequently, over medium-high heat, until mixture simmers and thickens. Stir in almond extract and cherries. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Add to braid along with toasted almonds.

Sausage filling:
¼ pound sausage
½ red pepper, diced

Put sausage and ¼ cup water in medium-large skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until water evaporates and sausage cooks through and browns, about 7 minutes, breaking up large pieces. Remove sausage with slotted spoon. Add enough oil so that amount in skillet equals about 1 tablespoon. Add peppers and sauté until softened slightly, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove and set aside. Add to braid along with grated pecorino and parmesan cheese.

2 sets of Danish Dough
½ cup of each filling

Beat 1 large egg for egg wash

1. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the Danish Dough into a 10 x 15-inch rectangle, ¼ inch thick. If the dough seems elastic and shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again. Place the dough on the baking sheet.

2. Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 4-inch-long cuts with a knife or rolling pastry wheel, each about ¾ inch apart. Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you’ve already made.

3. Spoon the filling you’ve chosen to fill your braid down the center of the rectangle. Starting with the top and bottom “flaps”, fold the top flap down over the filling to cover. Next, fold the bottom “flap” up to cover filling. This helps keep the braid neat and helps to hold in the filling. Now begin folding the cut side strips of dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished. Trim any excess dough and tuck in the ends.

Egg Wash
Lightly coat the braid with the egg wash. Spray cooking oil onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid.

Repeat with remaining braid and filling.

Proofing and Baking
1. Proof at room temperature or, if possible, in a controlled 90 degree F environment for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume and light to the touch.

2. Near the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven. Brush braids with egg wash again.

3. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan so that the side of the braid previously in the back of the oven is now in the front. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake about 15-20 minutes more, or until golden brown. Cool and serve the braid either still warm from the oven or at room temperature. The cooled braid can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze for 1 month.

orange vanilla opera cake (db may 2008)

Lately I’ve become fixated with Bo Friberg’s The Professional Pastry Chef. I don’t want and have never wanted to be a professional pastry chef. But I flipped through this book and I was hooked. (Actually, in my arrogance, I grabbed The Advanced Pastry Chef first.) Page after page of beautifully plated desserts; this was more than food, this was art. Suddenly the fuss necessary to produce eye-catching desserts seemed worthwhile.

So I was elated when Ivonne, Lis, Fran, and Shea announced their choice of an opera cake for this month’s Daring Baker challenge. Layers of almond-based cake brushed with syrup, interspersed with buttercream, topped with mousse and glaze – this is exactly what I had in mind to try. I haven’t bought The Professional Pastry Chef yet, but at least I have a reason to get some practice.

The rules for the recipe were somewhat flexible in that we could flavor our cake any way we wanted – as long as it was light-colored. I would have enjoyed trying a traditional dark chocolate opera cake, but this was fun too. I’ve been loving creamsicle-like flavors lately, so I made my pastry orange and vanilla-flavored.

I hit a snag or two along the road, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome. A shortage of parchment paper meant I couldn’t adequately line my pan and the cake didn’t come out cleanly, but I was able to piece it together better than I expected. My first batch of white chocolate seized when I tried melting it, even though I used high-quality (Callebaut) chocolate and a double boiler. My orange glaze, which I adapted from a recipe Tyler Florence developed to top scones, wasn’t stable at room temperature, even though I added more powdered sugar than I’d expected to need.

No matter, everything came together in the end. The cake was good, although not as flavorful as I would have liked. I was warned before I made mine that it might be too sweet, so I added a pinch of salt to the jaconde to add some balance. I was also hoping that the orange would help balance the sweetness, but there wasn’t nearly enough orange or vanilla flavor. I didn’t end up using the zest of the orange anywhere, which certainly would have helped. And I’ve never been able to get a strong vanilla flavor in something baked. Maybe I should try rubbing the vanilla seeds into the sugar, like Dorie recommends with citrus zest?

Even if the flavor didn’t knock my socks off, I’m really glad I made this. I learned so much and used so many techniques that were new to me. I also think it’s great that we were given the freedom to develop our own flavors, which encouraged me to be creative. I’m eager to try the traditional dark chocolate version now, and this time I’ll make sure it’s rich and flavorful!

Orange-Vanilla Opera Cake

This is exactly the recipe I used, including my adaptations for orange and vanilla flavors. This recipe is half of what was given to us by the Daring Baker hosts this month. Double this amount of buttercream would probably provide the right amount to create layers of equal thickness to the cake; mine are a little thin.

Joconde: (adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets)

The joconde can be made up to 1 day in advance and kept wrapped at room temperate

You can buy almond meal in bulk food stores or health food stores, or you can make it at home by grinding almonds in the food processor with two tablespoons of the flour that you would use in the cake.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 cup (112 grams) ground blanched almonds
1 cup (3.5 ounces) icing sugar, sifted
3 large eggs
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
½ teaspoon vanilla
Pinch salt
¼ cup (1.25 ounces) all-purpose flour

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a 12½ x 15½-inch jelly-roll pan with parchment paper and brush with ½ tablespoon of the melted butter.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or using a handheld mixer), whip the whites on low speed until they become foamy, then whip on medium-high speed until the whites reach soft peaks. Add the granulated sugar, and whip on high speed until the whites are stiff and glossy.

3. In a separate mixer bowl (or the same bowl, cleaned and dried) fitted with the paddle attachment, beat almond flour, icing sugar, eggs, salt and vanillas on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes. Add flour and beat at low speed until it disappears.

4. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture, then fold in the remaining melted butter until just combined. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.

5. Bake the cake until it is lightly browned and just springy to the touch, 5-9 minutes.

6. Put the pan on a cooling rack and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cover the pan with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the pan over, and unmold. Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cake. Let the cake cool to room temperature.

Syrup: (adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets)

The syrup can be made up to 1 week in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.

¼ cup water
1.2 ounces granulated sugar
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier

In a small saucepan, combine water and sugar. Bring to a boil, while stirring to dissolve ingredients. Stir in liqueur. Remove from heat and allow syrup to cool.

Buttercream: (adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours)

The buttercream, packed in an airtight container, can be frozen for 1 month or refrigerated for 4 days. Bring it to room temperature and beat it briefly to restore its consistency.

¼ cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg white
pinch salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch (160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer), about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat. Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cooledto room temperature, about 5 minutes.

Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter 2 tablespoons at a time. Once all the butter is in, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.

On medium speed, gradually beat in the orange juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

White chocolate mousse: (from Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarity’s Chocolate Passion)

The mousse can be made ahead and refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.

3.5 ounces white chocolate
½ cup plus 1½ tablespoons heavy cream
½ tablespoon Grand Marnier

1. Melt the chopped white chocolate and the 3 tablespoons of heavy cream. Whisk gently and let cool to room temperature.

2. Place the remaining heavy cream into a 4 1/2-quart bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the wire whisk attachment. Add the liqueur. Beat on high speed until soft peaks form.

3. Using a wire whisk, gently stir in about 1 cup of the whipped cream to the cooled white chocolate mixture. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the remaining cream. Do not over-mix or the mousse will become grainy. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Orange glaze: (adapted from Tyler Florence)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups (8 ounces) powdered sugar, sifted
2 oranges, juiced and zested

Combine butter, 2 cups (7 ounces) sugar, orange zest, and juice over a double boiler. Cook until butter and sugar are melted and mixture has thickened. Pour through fine mesh strainer, then beat until smooth and slightly cool, adding more sugar if necessary to reach desired consistency.


Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Cut and trim cake into three 10 x 5-inch rectangles. Place one section of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the 1/3 of the syrup. Spread half of the buttercream over this layer. Top with another piece of cake and moisten with 1/3 of the syrup. Spread the remaining buttercream on the cake and then top with the third section of cake. Use the remaining syrup to wet the cake and then refrigerate until very firm, at least half an hour.

Spread the mousse on the top of the last layer of cake. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours to give the mousse the opportunity to firm up.

Pour the cooled glaze over the top of the chilled cake, spreading to evenly coat the cake if necessary. Refrigerate the cake to set the glaze.

Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 10 servings.

cheesecake pops (daring bakers april 2008)

My first impression when I saw Elle and Deborah’s choice for this month’s Daring Bakers challenge was that it was going to be a pain in the ass. Then I convinced myself that it wouldn’t be so bad. I figured it would be a valuable recipe to have in my arsenal. It’s transportable, perfectly portioned, visually impressive, okay to sit at room temperature for a few hours, and well-liked. And how hard could it be? Scoop out some cheesecake, poke a stick in it, dunk it in melted chocolate. Easy cheesy.


Mixing up the cheesecake batter was as easy as I expected. The flour is an unusual ingredient in cheesecake which I’m assuming is there to stabilize the cake enough to form balls. I ate a lot of batter during this part. I like batter.

But after the batter-eating, things got dicey. I made half the recipe in a pan exactly half the area of the pan the recipe called for. I baked it far longer than the recipe stated and took it out when a normal cheesecake would be done – when an instant read thermometer read 150 degrees and it was a bit jiggly in the center. I let it chill overnight.

The next day, the center was far too liquidy to be formed into balls, although the outer half of the pan was more solid. I found out later that others had this problem as well. They came up with creative solutions such as piping the batter instead of rolling it and keeping the batter frozen. I just ate the too-soft middle portion with a spoon. Yum.

The rolling process was still a mess. It seemed like there was cheesecake everywhere. The dipping went similarly. Far messier than I had planned for.

But the real problem was that the balls weren’t stable outside of the freezer. Because the cake was so soft, the balls would fall right off the stick. Not good.

Tasty though. It’s hard to go wrong with cheesecake.

Cheesecake Pops

Makes 30-40 pops

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature
2 cups (14 ounces) sugar
¼ cup (1.25 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
5 large eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ cup heavy cream

Boiling water as needed

Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks

1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark,
milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known
as summer coating, confectionary coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply
stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

(Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)

Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) – Optional

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.