a beautiful bread?

i’ve been waiting for weeks and weeks, putting it off until i moved and then got settled, to start making bread again. having recently acquired a copy of beautiful breads and bountiful fillings, i was eager to inaugurate my metro-area bread making with a loaf of the concord grape bread. this was mainly inspired by the drool-inducing photographs of two sandwiches in the latter half of the book: the garden of eden, wherein ms. skye piles what seems like the contents of an orchard between two slices of concord grape bread and uses nut butter as the glue; and the grilled raspberry jam sauce with potato chip sandwich, which is exactly what it sounds like.

i’m honestly not sure where i went wrong. to the best of my knowledge, i followed the recipe exactly. it has an interesting ingredient list, going beyond the basics of yeast and flour and salt and encompassing such exotic components as boysenberry yogurt and vanilla soy milk. i chose a dry and calm day for the baking. i had a fresh packet of yeast and the proof gave off that delicious yeasty smell as it fed off the honeyed milk.

so why, then, did the bread fail to rise even when i alloted nearly triple the suggested time? i can think of only two reasons: the first is that i originally placed the bowl of dough in a warmed oven. this conceivably could have killed the yeast. the other--and i think perhaps more likely--reason is that i used the wrong kind of yeast. i like to keep a jar of active dry yeast in the fridge. i never have fresh yeast, and ms. skye does not specify her preference.

at any rate, my result was two loaves of rather flat and uninspiring bread. i dutifully sliced and froze them anyway, hoping that appearances would be deceiving and i had come away with a prize. unfortunately. the next day’s lunch (of the raspberry jam sandwich) was as near inedible as you can get and still be on this side of keeping the contents of your stomach from making a repeat appearance.

i admit that i’m discouraged. i had hoped to spend a few weekends now, early in the summer, making loaves of bread to keep handy for workaday lunches. now it seems a distant fantasy, especially with berry season knocking down the door and me with a pile of recipes i’ve been saving for nearly a year begging for my attention...


the tastiest failure ever - gateau st-honore

my life is at last regaining a semblance of normalcy. my boxes are mostly unpacked, the kitchen is clean and well-stocked, i suffered through the week subsisting on a diet of fast and pre-made foods to shore up my strength for this weekend.

why did i need my strength? because this weekend brought upon me the latest challenge from the daring bakers. helene of tartette proposed that we make a gateau st-honore, a traditional french pastry in honor of the patron saint of pastry, st-honore. this was appropriate for my may on just so many levels--to begin with, i recently returned from paris, where i spent many happy hours strolling down the rue st-honore and sampling the various patisserie offerings. (especially the macaroons). secondly, although this jewish girl rarely turns to a saint for help, my pastry offerings continually fall short...

i should say at the outset that this particular offering was no exception to the falling short rule.

the recipe came in three parts: firstly, a puff pastry. secondly, a pate a choux. and thirdly, a diplomat cream--that is to say, a sort of pastry cream but with gelatin. ostensibly this is to help stabilize the cream but i confess i’d rather use cornstarch any day of the week. my diplomat cream, as is typical for my pastry cream efforts, did not quite thicken appropriately. i live in fear of curdled pastry cream. there have been times when, despite all of my practicing (and i practice this a lot) that i had to make a creme anglaise ice cream base three times and STILL failed. but the diplomat cream, even in its unthickened state, had a fantastic lightness of texture and flavor that i’ve never seen in a pastry cream. (i’ve got a large bowl of leftover cream that i am even now plotting what to do with)

here comes confession number two: i used store-bought pastry. i’ve found store-bought pastry to be tasty and easy to work with and i didn’t want to ease back into the kitchen after a month-long absence by trying to wrestle with a laminated puff dough. just the thought of working with that butter block makes me tremble a little bit. of course, having said that, i’ve only just this morning discovered a nigella technique to make puff dough in the food processor, so i expect that one of these days i will try that in order to overcome my fears.

i’ve seen a lot of recipes for gateau st-honore, most delectably photographed in the seven sins of chocolate, but helene was firm in her conviction that we make this a pure offering: no chocolate. this is really where the wheels started falling off the wagon for me.

well, that and the unthickened diplomat cream. after failling to adequately thicken the diplomat cream i turned my attention to the pate a choux. i’ve made a choux before, sort of. i’m not sure that kosher for passover really counts for much. but i was confident in the technique, at least. i got a nice choux which puffed up pretty well only i’m fairly certain that i didn’t let them cook long enough. a sample puff was a bit squishy and bland.

i assembled the gateau as follows: i cut out a circle of the puff, and piped concentric circles of the choux right onto it. i dotted the rest of the parchment paper with choux puffs to use as cream puffs and profiteroles and really just to have extra puffs. these baked while the cream was meant to be thickening, and then i filled the cream puffs with the diplomat cream and set them atop the circle of puff and choux. at this point, i should have carmelized some sugar to use as a bit of glue, but everything was such a shambles by now that i didn’t have the heart to play with fire--or at least to risk setting one in my kitchen from the burned sugar.

i ate the gateau in its naked form, with streams of unthickened cream running across it and filling my mouth as the puffs exploded.
failure never tasted so good.

Gateau Saint Honore:
Components and respective recipes follow:
Puff pastry
Pate a Choux – Cream Puff Dough
Saint Honore Cream
8oz sugar for caramel
1 cup heavy cream + 1 tsp sugar

Pate a Choux – Cream Puffs Dough

4 ¾ oz. all purpose flour (135 gr)
1 cup water ( 240 ml)
2 oz unsalted butter (58 gr)
¼ tsp. salt (1 gr)
1 cup eggs (240 ml)

Sift the flour and set aside.
Heat the water, butter and salt to a full rolling boil, so that the fat is not just floating on the top but is dispersed throughout the liquid.
Stir the flour into the liquid with a heavy wooden spoon, adding it as fast as it can be absorbed. Avoid adding it all at once or it will form clumps.
Cook, stirring constantly and breaking up the lumps if necessary, by pressing them against the side of the pan with the back of the spoon until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan, about 2-3 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a mixer bowl. Let the paste cool slightly so that the eggs will not cook when they are added. You can add and stir the eggs by hand but it requires some serious elbow grease.
Mix in the eggs, one at a time, using the paddle attachment on low or medium speed. Do not add all the eggs at once. Check after a few, the dough should have the consistency of thick mayonnaise.
Transfer the dough to a piping bag and use as desired.

Pate Feuillete – Puff Pastry:

Makes about 2 1/2 pounds.
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface (420 gr)
3/4 cup cake flour (105 gr)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt (7 gr)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, well chilled (60 gr)
1 1/4 cups cold water (295.5 ml)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (14 gr)
1 3/4 cups (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, well-chilled (405 gr)

1/ Make the dough package: In a large mixing bowl, combine both flours with the salt. Scatter butter pieces over the flour mixture; using your fingers or a pastry cutter, incorporate butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.
2/ Form a well in center of mixture, and pour the water into well. Using your hands, gradually draw flour mixture over the water, covering and gathering until mixture is well blended and begins to come together. Gently knead mixture in the bowl just until it comes together to form a dough, about 15 seconds. Pat dough into a rough ball, and turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Wrap tightly, and place in refrigerator to chill 1 hour.
3/ Make the butter package: Sprinkle 1/2 tablespoon flour on a sheet of waxed or parchment paper. Place uncut sticks of butter on top, and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 tablespoon flour. Top with another sheet of paper; using a rolling pin, pound butter to soften and flatten to about 1/2 inch. Remove top sheet of paper, and fold butter package in half onto itself. Replace top sheet of paper, and pound again until butter is about A inch thick. Repeat process two or three times, or until butter becomes quite pliable. Using your hands, shape butter package into a 6-inch square. Wrap well in plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator until it is chilled but not hardened, no more than 10 minutes.
4/ Assemble and roll the dough: Remove dough package from refrigerator, and place on a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, gently roll dough into a 9-inch round. Remove butter package from refrigerator, and place it in the center of the dough round. Using a paring knife or bench scraper, lightly score the dough to outline the butter square; remove butter, and set it aside. Starting from each side of the center square, gently roll out dough with the rolling pin, forming four flaps, each 4 to 5 inches long; do not touch the raised square in the center of the dough. Replace butter package on the center square. Fold flaps of dough over the butter package so that it is completely enclosed. Press with your hands to seal.
5/ Using the rolling pin, press down on the dough at regular intervals, repeating and covering the entire surface area, until it is about 1 inch thick. Gently roll out the dough into a large rectangle, about 9 by 20 inches, with one of the short sides closest to you. Be careful not to press too hard around the edges, and keep the corners even as you roll out the dough by squaring them with the side of the rolling pin or your hands. Brush off any excess flour. Starting at the near end, fold the rectangle in thirds as you would a business letter; this completes the first single turn.Wrap in plastic wrap; place in refrigerator 45 to 60 minutes.
6/ Remove dough from refrigerator, and repeat process in step 5, giving it five more single turns.Always start with the flap opening on the right as if it were a book. Mark the dough with your knuckle each time you complete a turn to help you keep track. Chill 1 hour between each turn. After the sixth and final turn, wrap dough in plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight before using.

Saint Honore Cream (Rapid Chiboust or Diplomat Cream)
1 envelope unflavored gelatin (7 gr.)
1/4 cup cold water (60 ml)
1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons sugar (130 gr)
½ cup all-purpose flour (70 gr)
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 egg yolks
2 cups whole milk (500ml)
1 Tb. rum
¼ cup whipping cream (57 gr)
3 egg whites
dash of salt
1/2 cup sugar (105 gr)

Soak the gelatin in the 1/4 cup of cold water.
Put the sugar, flour, and salt into a saucepan and stir together with a whisk. Add the yolks and enough milk to make a paste. Whisk in the remainder of the milk.
Place over low heat and stirring constantly, cook until thick. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and the gelatin. Stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
Stir in the whipping cream.Set the mixing bowl in cold water and stir until the cream is cool. Place the egg whites in a clean bowl and using clean beaters, whip them with the dash of salt. As soon as the whites begin to stiffen, gradually add the 1/2 cup of sugar and beat until they are very stiff. Fold the egg whites into the cooled cream.

8 oz sugar (240 gr)


Roll the puff pastry out to 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick, 12 inch square (30 cm). Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate covered at least 20 minutes.
While the puff pastry is resting, make the pate a choux and place it in a pastry bag with a # 4 (8mm) plain tip. Reserve.
Leaving the puff pastry on the sheet pan, cut a 11 inch (27.5 cm) circle from the dough and remove the scraps. (An easy way to cut it is to use a 11inch tart pan as a “cookie cutter”). Prick the circles lightly with a fork.
Pipe 4 concentric rings of Pate a Choux on the pastry circle. Pipe out 12 cream puffs the size of Bing cherries onto the paper around the cake.
Bake the puff pastry circle and the cream puffs at 400F (205C) until the pate a choux has puffed, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375F (190C) and bake until everything is dry enough to hold its shape, about 35 minutes longer for the cake and 8 minutes longer for the cream puffs (just pick them up and take them out as they are done)
Place about 4 oz (114 gr) of the Saint Honore Cream in a pastry bag with a #2 (4mm) plain tip. Use the pastry bag tip or the tip of a paring knife to make a small hole in the bottom of each cream puff. Pipe the cream into the cream puffs to fill them. Refrigerate.
Spread the remaining cream filling on the cake. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to set the cream.
Caramelize the 8 oz. of sugar:
Fill a bowl that is large enough to hold the pan used for cooking the sugar with enough cold water to reach halfway up the sides of the pan. Set the bowl aside.
Place the sugar in a heavy bottomed pan and cook until the sugar until it has caramelized to just a shade lighter than the desired color.
Remove from the heat and immediately place the bottom of the pan in the bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process.
Dip the cream puffs into the hot caramel, using 2 forks or tongues to avoid burning your fingers. Place them on a sheet pan. The caramel must be hot enough to go on in a thin layer. Reheat if necessary as you are dipping, stirring constantly to avoid darkening the caramel any more than necessary. Also, avoid any Saint Honore cream to leak out of the puffs and get mixed in with the caramel while dipping as the cream can cause the sugar to recrystallize.
Whip the one cup of heavy cream and teaspoon of sugar to stiff peaks. Place the whipped cream in pastry bag fitted with a #5 (10mm) star tip. Pipe a border of whipped cream around the top of the cake. Arrange the cream puffs, evenly spaced, on top of the filling, next to the cream.

Option: Before filling the cake, take care of the cream puffs, dip them in more caramel, hook them up to the base. Fill with the cream filling and fill the holes with the whipped cream.

please check out helene of tartlette and anita at dessert first for the rest of the DB roundup. most of them, i am pleased to say, had far more success than i did!

a springtime night for light indulgence

in preparation for my attempt this weekend of gateau st-honore, i decided to plan a small menu around it and sieze the opportunity to finally pull my vue out of its exile on the shelf. i first heard about this delightful book on the martha show, when i realized that for all of my pasta, pizza and wagamama books i have no tomes on basic french-inspired cuisine (even if, in this case, it came by way of australia). i liked shannon’s casual approach to his french food when i saw him on the show and i liked him even more as i perused his book for ideas this morning.

i settled on his pea soup creation when i saw the inscription for it: “perfect for a springtime night of light indulgence.” the recipe consisted of a very basic, very simple and very delicious pea soup with no fuss and no muss, to be accompanied by scallops wrapped in pancetta. here’s where i started making changes: i used chicken, because i had it in the fridge and because i don’t eat things that swim, and i also used proscuitto because while i do have pancetta in the fridge it isn’t sliced and i wasn’t feeling up to dealing with my mandoline and making slices.

that took care of the entree. for the hors d’eouvres--and this, i really thought, was inspired--i took a scrap of the leftover puff pastry and the leftover egg whites from my gateau and made a mini quiche lorraine. was it perfect? no. i didn’t pre-bake the puff crust enough. was it delicious? you bet your ass it was.


a triple celebration on a friday night

it’s that most beautiful time of the week again, and a personal favorite of mine: friday night. i’ve written before about my love for this most sacred of days--in pretty much every sense of the word. in the past six months or so, i’ve been making an effort to literally separate the sacred from the profane on the jewish sabbath--not in an orthodox manner, per se, but by setting aside friday night as a night to relax, to rejuvenate, to cook and to enjoy the simple peace of a simple evening.

this friday night in particular was worth celebrating. i:

1. finished my first full week of my new job
2. made it to memorial day weekend, with three glorious days of freedom ahead of me
3. i bought a new apartment, free and clear, all mine, in the chelsea area of new york city.

i floated home as i walked down 44th street, stopping at the chelsea garden center and finding, oh joy, a small pot of thai basil, the one herb i’ve been unable to locate for my new kitchen garden. my office closed at two PM and i took advantage of the afternoon to clean up the apartment, the kitchen, to set up photography projects for the summer, and best of all, scout some seriously delicious tasks to keep me busy all weekend.

i began with a simple and delicious friday evening meal. while snacking on my favorite appetizer of fresh mozzarella and sliced proscuitto, i delved into giada de laurentiis’ new book, everyday pasta, and came up with a perfect springtime dish: lemon cream chicken with penne. since today was the first really hot day of the year, blasting through 90F on the thermometer, the lemon with the light sauce was an ideal way to go. the only thing i did wrong was to get a bit overzealous, as i always do, with the cayenne pepper...

dessert was equally simple and sublime. turning to that old seasonal standby, emily luchetti’s passion for desserts, i pulled out a recipe that had been languishing on my to-do list since last summer: strawberry ginger sodas. now that we’re finally entering strawberry season here in the US (although not here in new york city for another few weeks), i felt secure picking up a quart of berries from the supermarket and bringing them home with me, where i blended them into a puree and mixed them with a can of ginger ale. i topped this off with a few small scoops of orange sherbet (store-bought, but don’t tell anyone) and sipped pure summer heaven through a straw.


back on track with new ideas and inspiration

since the move i haven’t been cooking, except for the night when i burned the quesadilla. i’ve wanted to, but i’m still feeling a bit overwhelmed from all of the packing and unpacking and trying, above all, to be logical and sensible and not squander this blank-slate opportunity to really set things up the way i want them. i’ve had my chocolate-coconut-cookie recipe from chocolatechocolate open on the counter for a week, and that’s even before i left for paris.

fortunately for me, the combination of paris and two donna leon books in a week has renewed my appetite for cooking challenges. i am now determined to renew my efforts and master croissants, crepes, marshmallows and macaroons. probably some madeleines as well.

and in order to keep my head from spinning overmuch, i’m going to emulate the cream puff in venice blog and concentrate on a “flavor of the month”--choose a cookbook and resolve to cook at least once a week out of it until i feel i’ve tried what i want to try. right now i’m leaning toward “everyday pasta” as my first selection. as far as my baking and dessert needs go, my supplementary flavor of the month will be “the perfect scoop” in preparation for summer, perhaps, or at the very least i will finally try that macaroon recipe i stashed away with the blood orange curd.

and of course, the mounds bar cookies.


easing back into it...

so it's now been nearly two weeks since i've last cooked a meal and i've thoroughly proven that cooking is in no way whatsoever like riding a bike...

by burning my quesadilla.

that's right. i burned a quesadilla. and undercooked a couple of sausage links. the only thing that came through was my brown rice and i'm sure i owe that felicity to the rice cooker.


take a deep breath

the boxes have been packed and taken away.
i've driven to my new apartment. i bought a shower curtain!
i had my fete for my co-workers.
i even scrounged up a fresh, last-minute treat for my fellow photographers (king arthur chocolate chip cookies come through EVERY TIME!).

the only thing i didn't get to do was my inaugural challenge for the intrepid daring bakers.
please, show them some support. this month's challenge...was a *challenge*!

and i will hopefully be back with some new pictures and some new cooking adventures and a brand-new, large, open and CLEAN kitchen by the weekend. i can't wait...