KOUIGN AMANN

Pronounced “queen-amahn”, this is a sugary, yeast pastry that is much like puff pastry, only heavier. It has layers that should be flaky and buttery. The story of it’s origin is that a baker, during the war in France, ran out of almost everything to bake with. He only had butter, sugar, salt, flour, and yeast. He decided to make a simple bread dough, layer it by folding butter and sugar over and over again between the layers of dough, and top it off with more sugar and butter. The last part should melt and seep around the bottom of the pan, turning into a sticky caramel crust. The original was made into an 8″ circle, although it is usually found in bakeries as smaller cupcake sized versions technically called Kouignettes. The recipe book I have called for the smaller ones that look like…..

Here is how mine turned out…

I was not impressed. This recipe is an advanced recipe, that calls for alot of measuring, rolling, and resting the dough, and I admit I had my share of trouble with it.

The butter was supposed to be chilled to the exact temp of the dough in order to incorporate properly. Apparently, mine was not. My Kouignettes were heavy and slightly greasy inside. Right around the time I was to make these, the magazine “Cook’s Illustrated” (a Bible for serious cooks everywhere), came out with an article on how to perfect Kouign Amann, by using their tips and techniques.

By incorporating the sugar into the butter first, instead of the layering, each layer was easier to roll….i.e. the sugar didn’t absorb the moisture while you were rolling, making a sticky mess, while the crystals that were left tore holes in the dough. Much better!

PB&J 4 LAYER CAKE

Today I’m going rogue ! Off the beaten path. I’m not using anyone else’s recipe….just me. My lovely sister saw these cake pans on sale, bought them for me, stating, ” I thought you maybe could use these for one of your desserts”. So of course, my first cake out of them had to be for her and her husband ! And they LOVE peanut butter. So I just had to do a peanut butter and jelly cake. These are the pans she brought me….

I looked at many peanut butter cake recipes, and after much deliberation…..decided to go with …..a cake mix. I know, I know. Not very chef-fy. But in my defense, I WAS going to change it. So I took a good quality butter cake mix, cut the butter quantity in half, (I didn’t want it too dense) and added about 2/3 of a cup of chunky peanut butter. Add strawberry preserves as a filling between the layers, make a peanut butter frosting and Voila! Here’s how it looked….

Honestly, I even cheated on the frosting . I started with a plain can of cream cheese frosting, added creamy peanut butter, and a slight bit of powdered sugar to stiffen it back up after adding the peanut butter. Such a very little work for what I think is an attractive dessert. The pans are a hit, and if I am in a pinch for time, I would definitely go this route again.

COFFEE ECLAIRS AND PARIS-BREST

I decided to combine these 2 recipes because the base of each is Pate a choux. If you’ve followed me at all, you’ll remember that Pate a choux is my favorite pastry to make because of it’s versatility. Eclairs, cream puffs, churros, cheese puffs and those giant caramelized towers called Croquembouche are all different adaptations of this single recipe. And I, of course, love the simplicity of that recipe. 1 cup of water with a pinch of salt, 1 stick of butter, 1 cup of flour, and either 1 tsp or 1 Tbsp sugar depending on whether you’re making a sweet or savory pastry. Pretty simple. So….after making the pate a choux, I piped it into 2 different shapes. The eclairs are self-explanatory, but Paris-Brest is named after the famous Paris bicycle race, and it’s shape is donut-like to represent the wheels of the bikes. Here are the pictures….

The eclairs are filled with a coffee flavored pastry cream and coated with a coffee glaze, and the Paris-Brest are filled with a hazelnut praline pastry cream. I made the pastry creams the day before for manageability. Here’s how mine turned out….

Choosing to make my own hazelnut praline; for ease, I would buy it in the future. It wasn’t difficult…….just time consuming. I decorated the eclairs with gold flake and cocoa nibs, bypassing the ground coffee beans in the glaze.

LANGUES DE CHAT

Sorry it took me so long to post this time…..but we’ll get into that later. “Langues de Chat” means “cat’s tongue”. This refers to the shape. They’re piped onto the cookie sheet and spread into this flat, elongated shape . This is how they should look……

Pretty plain. I have to admit …I thought the cookies were nothing special. VERY easy to make….they are a VERY simple butter cookie that goes well with coffee, but on it’s own, is just a little boring. Here’s how mine turned out…..

CHOCOLATE GANACHE TART

No need to explain this one….it speaks for itself! Everyone knows what chocolate ganache is…so now put that into a tart shell! So rich, it is simply the silky inside of a chocolate truffle! This recipe is SO easy; combining both milk and dark chocolate with butter, heavy cream and honey. Here is the picture from the recipe book…..

It is decorated with raw cocoa nibs and gold flakes, but almost any decoration will work that doesn’t detract from the ganache. (Think cocoa powder or gold dust, or any number of the newer gold sprinkles, or even powdered sugar!) Here’s how mine looked…..

I decided on curls, even though I did have the nibs. I just wasn’t sure about adding the crunch that nibs add, especially when the filling is so creamy decadent. No one complained that it was one-note, so I don’t have any regrets. The recipe suggests using Couverture chocolate because it has a higher cocoa butter content, and I must agree, it melts on your tongue….but I really think using any Good chocolate will give you great results also !

GATEAU BASQUE

In honor of this weeks’ Food Network show ….”America’s Best Baker”….I decided ( In spite of the heat!) to bake the same dessert the contestants had to make for the finale. A Basque cake. For those of you that saw the episode…you will remember that this is a filled cake(?) with trademark decorative scoring on the top of an egg-washed cookie type crust. Here’s a pic…..

Gateau Basque is the basic Basque, containing only 2 components…a tender cookie-like crust, and a simple pastry cream. If you watched the TV episode, you heard that Basque Cake (as it’s called) can be personalized by the typical addition of jellies, fruit pieces, even nuts. Traditionalists also frequently serve it with brandied cherries. The scoring of the top pattern is also a very individual thing, with the standard being a criss-cross pattern made with a fork. The top is expected to crack, due to the expansion of the pastry cream, but it will fall again as it cools. Here’s how mine turned out…..

As you can see, I made it my own by adding a layer of apricot preserves under my pastry cream. A pretty easy dessert to make, with minimal ingredients, the only trick to it may be in the assembly. But that is also where the creative fun is ! The taste is rich and buttery, so actually the addition of fruit or jam helps to balance that. A hit !!!

FLAN PATISSIER

Flan Patissier is also called Parisian Flan. If any of you have ever spent any time in Mexico… you have probably had Flan. It’s a custard with a caramel sauce-type glaze. This is NOT that. This is more like a custard pie. This is what it should look like……

Almost looks like a cheesecake. The recipe isn’t that hard….A pastry crust (think pie crust) and a thick pudding-like vanilla custard, that is baked and then broiled to give it that traditional burnt film, which is then brushed with a glaze of apricot jelly to give it a shine. Here’s how mine turned out…..

Very creamy. Very calorie dense. Of course….it’s French. Again….lot’s of cream . Lot’s of eggs and sugar and vanilla. But oh so good! And the toasting on top is like the crust on bread…wouldn’t be the same without it and it’s where a lot of the flavor is. Truthfully, it needs fresh fruit or a sauce to enhance it. It’s like vanilla ice cream…it’s great as is, but way better paired with something.

BROWN BUTTER ALMOND TUILES

Let’s talk Tuiles. The Tuiles’ classic shape is sort of the shape of a potato chip. They are traditionally draped over your rolling pin moments after being taken from the oven. Then they set up into these delicate, crispy little wafers. Adaptations of the classic, include draping over muffin tins or bowls before they set up, making dessert cups or ice cream bowls. This is how the book showed them…..

The batter is quite runny with lots of slivered almonds in it, and you just drop tablespoons of it on the cookie sheets. You can see the little bubble marks that remind me of pancakes. Another low ingredient, easy to whip up cookie that uses LOTS of butter, eggs, and vanilla. Throw in the cream, and we have…… FRENCH! Here’s how mine looked….

Some were crisper than others…you can tell by the browning. I personally preferred the “bendy ones” ….those that had just a little give. All in all…I think I would try these again at the holidays with dried cranberries and pistachios.

SABLE BRETON and SPICED PECAN SABLES

These are a French butter cookie. Sable means “sandy” and Breton is the Britany region of France. The recipe is fairly easy, with the heavy hitter being (of course) the butter and eggs. Sable Breton is a very plain and classic cookie with a traditional crisscross pattern. The spiced pecan sables, take this low-key cookie to a whole new level ! Flavored with lots of ground pecans, bourbon, cinnamon, and nutmeg, these are the ultimate cookie for holidays ! Here’s the pics from the recipe book…..

There were odd discrepancies between the two recipes, such as an unusually large amount of baking powder in one recipe and none in the other. But, in spite of second guessing myself, I just followed the recipes to the letter….and they turned out great ! Big hit ! Here’s how they looked….

Of course everybody’s favorite was the spiced sables…but the classic sable breton left you with that “comfort cookie” feeling. Each cookie is brushed with an egg wash before baking to give them that shiny, crisp look. There are lots of variations out there, ground almonds being the most common. But have fun with these…hazelnut, chocolate, walnut….the flavor combinations are endless.

GOUGERES

Gougeres are little cheese puffs made with pate aux choux pastry. I love anything that’s made with “Choux”. It’s so easy to make and so versatile …..from cream puffs to eclairs to churros! And now….cheese puffs !!! Crispy exteriors, and chewy cheesy centers. Here’s how the book shows them…..

My favorite Pate Aux Choux recipe is 1 stick butter, 1cup water, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tsp salt, brought to a boil, then 1 cup flour dumped in, heated for 1 minute until it balls up, and then beaten with 4 eggs until it’s shiny . So easy….and then piped into any shape. This is the first time I’ve tried flavoring my choux pastry….usually the flavor is in the filling. These are made with Gruyere cheese. Lots of Gruyere. Although I liked the Gruyere in the quiche I made a few weeks ago…I was not crazy about it in these. VERY cheesy. Reminiscent of gold fish crackers. Here’s how mine looked…..

Just a sprinkle of extra cheese on them with a shake of paprika, and they’re crispy little balls of cheese.