Monday, July 21, 2008

Financiers with Lemon Cream

After my experience with the lemon millefeuille, I knew I wanted to incorporate the delicious lemon cream in another (easier) dessert.

Then a few days later, I received a mysterious package in the mail. It was quite heavy, and I thought it came from friends who recently moved to Hong Kong. When out rolled 9 or 10 of the most beautiful lemons, I was amazed. It was the mother of one of these friends who had sent them. She lives on the Côte d'Azur, and she wanted to share the lemons from her back yard. She had seen a few posts on my blog and knew I love anything lemon-flavored.

Lemons in the mail. Imagine my surprise!

These lemons, which I believe are the same as the lemons from Menton recommended by Pierre Hermé in his original lemon cream recipe, are unbelievably juicy. One small lemon can give something like twice as much flavorful juice as any ordinary lemon.

This lemon looked almost like a grapefruit once I cut it open (after zesting it)

So what to do with this lemon bounty?
I made a lemon tart and froze it, which turned out beautifully as we were surprised with a simultaneous visit by my brother and a good friend who lives in Geneva. I made Hermé's lemon cream, in two versions: one per his original recipe, for filling macarons, and the other with added whipped cream and a touch of gelatin, the same I used for the lemon millefeuille (both recipes in the millefeuille link). I froze the standard version, and looked for a dessert to showcase the lightened one. I wasn't eager to launch into the whole caramelized puff pastry adventure again, and wanted something simple.

I then remembered the recipe featured on the cover of Sherry Yard's book, The Secrets of Baking. A chocolate financier with a raspberry ganache piped in the middle.

I tried to make something similar: a regular financier, with a lightened lemon cream piped in the middle. I didn't have the cute doughnut-shaped ring molds (or mini-savarin molds), so of course I had to go purchase those right away. Financier batter is extremely easy to make, and delicious with its combined flavors of almonds and burnt butter. I baked them for 10-15 minutes, and then all I had to do was to pipe in the filling.

Which, the first time around, was harder than I had anticipated (no photos). See, I don't know the first thing about piping. But I'm beginning to discover that if you don't hold the tip slightly buried in the filling that you're piping, you end up with a worm-like shape that is anything but appetizing. Add to that the fact my cream was a little limp (I think I used too much whipped cream, or too little gelatin) and the result was not pretty. I froze the remaining financiers, as well as the cream (I freeze everything!) and forgot about the idea.

Then a few evenings ago I was alone with my mother-in-law who was visiting while my husband was away, and I wondered what to make for dessert (she has a sweet tooth so it's fun to test desserts on her). I defrosted the cream in the fridge for a few hours, defrosted and crisped the financiers by baking them for a few minutes, let them cool, threw a piping tip into a plastic freezer bag, and piped the cream in the center of the savarins.

Well don't you know, they turned out much better than the first time around! Was my cream colder? Did I overnight learn a little about piping? Who knows. But I smiled as my mother in law looked surprised I had whipped this dessert up in five minutes... So Martha of me!

Donc Florence, un grand merci pour ces citrons délicieux qui m'ont permis de gâter tous nos récents visiteurs, tout en découvrant un nouveau dessert! (I had to thank the donor of the lemons in French!)

These financiers are very easy to make. The only trick is to know how much batter to pour into the mold to make plump doughnut shapes without a rim. The ones above seem perfect to me, but the ones featured with the cream have a bit of a lip. I must have used too much batter. Not that it really matters.

Recipe: Financiers with Lemon Cream
This will be short, since I've already posted the recipes for the components of this dessert.

1. Bake the financiers (recipe here) in carefully buttered individual mini-savarin molds until they are an attractive brown color. Cool a few minutes then unmold carefully.

2. Place the cooled financiers in dessert plates. Pipe the very cold lemon cream (recipe here, follow the version that includes whipped cream and a touch of gelatin) in a spiral in the center of each financier, and serve immediately.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

English Muffins

English muffins. Now here is a recipe that is easy to make, and has many additional advantages.

To start with, these can be made ahead of time, and stored in the fridge or freezer. Yes you can eat them freshly baked, but I almost prefer them a few hours or even days later, fresh from the toaster. Perhaps because that is the way I've always eaten store-bought English muffins. It does feel strange and slightly sacrilegious to take fresh bread and toast it. Much better to toast something that was made a few days earlier.

Another reason to make these at home is they are not easily available in continental Europe, and especially here in Switzerland, I wouldn't know where to find them.

Finally, you don't need an oven. Now most people have an oven, but they may not want to heat it up in the heart of summer. A few heavy frying pans or better a cast iron skillet and you can make this great bread at home.

I haven't done extensive research on recipes, and don't know if the following is the most authentic. But my family likes these, and if you've never made English muffins, this unfussy recipe might be a good way to start.

Some process photos
Click for a larger image

(I don't quite remember, but I believe in the following photos I made the dough a little less wet than specified by the recipe.)

Cutting the dough into 12 or so pieces

Pieces shaped into balls

Resting the dough balls for 20 minutes weighed down with a baking pan. My baking pans are quite heavy...

The rested balls after removing the top baking pan

Baking the English muffins in several pans. No matter how they were flattened, they tend to dome up, and I have to press down on them after turning them over to make them relatively flat. I wonder what this does to the structure of the bread and to its "nooks and crannies" (for those not in the know, English muffins are supposed to have lots of little holes in them for butter to pool in...). It does cause some minor cracking along the sides. Perhaps there's a better way.

Some have been turned over and squashed down

So these look pretty close to the real thing to me...

Hm, not sure I've achieved nooks and crannies here, but good enough

My notes on the recipe

- Maybe use less liquid: this dough is very, very wet. I have to research whether this level of hydration is essential to the flavor or texture of the muffin. I think once I made these with less water, resulting in a stiffer dough which was easier to handle, and the result seemed quite good. I believe the process photos above were from that batch.
- If you don't significantly reduce the liquid, make sure to flour your hands and work surfaces liberally for shaping
- Cut in 12 or even more pieces for smaller muffins (8 would make really large ones)
- Make sure your pan is not too hot! I've burnt a few. I start with 3-4 on my stove (on a scale going up to 10), and even reduce it down to 1-2 toward the end of my baking session. Keep checking!
- Don't oil your pan, or you'll have a really sticky mess to clean up between the muffins. After a minute or two the muffin crust forms and doesn't stick. This works in all my pans: non-stick, untreated fairly heavy pan, and a small cast-iron skillet.
- Use semolina, not corn meal to coat them. Less conspicuous crunch. But if you only have corn meal, no problem.
- I don't take the 20 minutes rest after shaping too literally: I shape 12 or 14 muffins, clean up a little, then start baking the first ones I shaped. (I'm not saying this is right, it's just what I do)
- Don't bother weighing down with another pan (they really stick, so you have to douse them with semolina), but squish them down when you flip them over.
- Flour your hands when you drop them into the pan. Again, they're sticky-wet.
- I recently used 50g whole wheat, which tasted good.
- I wonder about the recipe's suggestion that it's up to you whether you let the dough rise a few hours or overnight. I thought the amount of yeast you use should be inversely proportional to the rising time (short rise, lots of yeast, long rise, less yeast). Wouldn't you need a smaller amount of yeast if you leave the dough out overnight, especially in the summer? I use cold milk and room temperature water, but when I wake up I find a dough that is extremely bubbly, perhaps collapsed (if that's the term). And the resulting flavor might be a little too yeasty for me. I'll fiddle some with the recipe, and might try storing the dough in the fridge overnight. But the original recipe author is quite specific about leaving it out on a counter, so what do I know.

Recipe: English Muffins

Source: Winos and Foodies

I have made no changes to the recipe below. For my 2-cents' worth (or my grain of salt as we say in French), see my notes above.

2 teaspoons dried yeast granules
1/2 teaspoon sugar
250ml warm water
125ml warm milk
350g high grade flour
100g standard flour
1 teaspoon salt
rice flour or fine cornmeal

Put the yeast and sugar in a small bowl with half the warm water. Stir and set aside for a few minutes, then add the remaining water and the milk.
Put the flour and salt in a large bowl and use your hand to mix in the yeast, water and milk mixture. Knead the mixture which will be sticky, thoroughly in the bowl (or use the dough hook of an electric mixer).
Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and set aside to rise until more than doubled in bulk. Although this may take only a couple of hours, the dough can be allowed to rise overnight. Deflate the dough by pulling it away from the sides of the bowl. Lift it out of the bowl and divide into 8 pieces.
Drop each piece on to a tray liberally dusted with rice flour or fine cornmeal and roll them over until well coated.
Form each piece into a thick disc.
Place the disks on a baking tray and place another tray on top.
Leave to rest and rise 20 minutes, then remove top tray.
Place a cast iron griddle or large frying pan over low heat.
When only moderately hot place four of the muffins on it and cook for about ten minutes until light beige on the bottom.
Turn the muffins over and cook the second side for a similar length of time.
Wrap the cooked muffins in a dry tea towel while you cook the remaining four.
Pull apart and eat while still warm.
For toasting pull the muffins apart and toast on both sides.

Ah, I love to have a bag of these in my freezer!

I think this batch has some nooks and crannies, right?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Tarte aux framboises (raspberry tart)

We have been enjoying lots of strawberries, cherries and rapsberries this season. Switzerland is a lovely place for berries!

Now we didn't pick these raspberries ourselves, but I got them at the farm which is a few hundred meters away. And I have almost as warm a feeling toward these raspberries as I did toward the strawberries we picked ourselves.

The amazing thing about many farms around Zurich is you can buy eggs, milk and fresh produce on faith: the farm "shop" is unattended (save by a camera in some cases), and you can help yourself and are trusted to put the right sum in the cash box.

Our local farm is not quite so trusting, and offers a huge produce "distributor," or a big closet whose compartments snap open when you enter the right sum of money.

When I bought these raspberries, for some reason the machine swallowed my 5 franc coin and produced no raspberries in exchange. I could have rung the bell, but the sign was clear: please do not disturb from 12:30 to 1:30 during the lunch break. This being Switzerland, I took the request seriously. So I left a note.

A few hours later, the farmer called me on my cell phone, and when I returned to collect my raspberries she gave me two boxes instead of the one I had paid for, to make up for the inconvenience.

The Swiss are not always warm and fuzzy, but they are very service-oriented, and will make it up to you when a mistake is made. I will gladly shop at this farm again.

I was again surprised at how well my tart came out. My husband's birthday was yesterday, and raspberries are his favorite fruit. I followed the same procedure as for the strawberry tart. This time the crème pâtissière wasn't too runny (I cooked it longer), but the crust was a little overbaked. Even though they wouldn't eat any of the final product, my 3 and 5-year-old daughters helped me place the rapsberries on the cream ("no yellow! I don't want to see any yellow!") and I lightly brushed the berries with the leftover glaze from the strawberry tart. Delicious!

And I just found out that Zorra of 1x umrühren is hosting an event for which this post seems appropriate: "Swiss National Day: Red, white or Swiss." This will be my contribution, I hope it helps to make her feel less homesick for Switzerland!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Tarte aux fraises (strawberry tart)

A few days ago I made my first strawberry tart. Which is surprising given strawberry tarts were my birthday cake throughout childhood, and is one of my favorite desserts to this day. I guess usually when we have good strawberries in the house, they don't stay around long enough to be made into a dessert.

But last weekend we went strawberry-picking with the girls and their teenage cousins, bringing back more strawberries than we could eat in one or two sittings. I sorted through our 3 kg of strawberries: the lovely ones I set aside for a tart, the medium-nice ones we ate with a little sugar and the bruised ones I ground up for sorbet (which was a disappointment as it developed a plastic flavor from the plastic container I left the puree in for two days in the fridge).

I was concerned the crust would get soggy, so I brushed it with strawberry glaze to insulate it and assembled the tart only minutes before serving it. The insulation proved totally unnecessary as four of us wolfed down the tart in no time.

The pastry cream was too runny. I think I didn't boil it long enough. But I still enjoyed its vanilla flavor, even though I am not a pastry cream fan, as mentioned earlier. I think home-made pastry cream is always better, and when there's real vanilla bean in it, I could eat it with a spoon!

Recipe: Tarte aux fraises (Strawberry tart)

1. Pie shell
Make a pre-baked pie shell, for instance using the recipe here. Instructions for blind baking it can be found here.

2. Crème pâtissière (pastry cream)
Source: Pierre Hermé, Secrets Gourmands

- 250g milk (1/4 liter)
- 23g corn starch
- 62g sugar (divided in two)
- 3 egg yolks
- 25g butter
- 1/2 to 1 vanilla bean

Place the corn starch and half the sugar in a saucepan with a thick bottom. Add the milk slowly while whisking. Split the vanilla bean, scrape seeds, and add bean + seeds to the milk. While whisking, bring to a boil.

In another saucepan, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining sugar, for three minutes. Pour in the milk and corn starch mixture in a thin stream, whisking continuously. Bring to a boil and remove from the fire as soon as you see the first big bubbles [I think mine could have boiled a little longer, it was too runny]. Remove the vanilla bean and immerse the saucepan in a ice cold water bath (put ice cubes and water in a big bowl).

Once the cream has cooled to 50°C, add the butter, turning quickly with a whisk. The butter should not be added when the cream is too hot (over 60°C), or the cream will be grainy and the butter will lose its fresh flavor.

You can flavor the cream with:
- Coffee [of course not for use with the strawberry tart]: add 2.5g instant coffee diluted in a teaspoon of water + 2.5g natural coffee extract
Or with 1 to 2 tablespoons of one of the following:
- Cointreau
- Grand Marnier
- Kirsch
- Old brown rhum ("agricole")

3. Strawberries
If the strawberries are clean, I wouldn't bother washing them. If they're sandy, rinse them quickly and dry them carefully.

4. Glaze
[I think you can simply make a glaze from currant jelly, boiling it with a little water. I didn't have any jelly in the house, so I had to make this glaze from scratch, which tasted very much of strawberries. This glaze keeps for up to a month in the fridge.]

Source: Pierre Hermé, Secrets Gourmands

- 250g strawberries
- 200g sugar
- 10g pectin ("Vitpris" in France) [I used instead a kind of sugar sold specifically for making jams, I assume it contains pectin. Yes I happen to have this sugar at home because I keep buying it by mistake instead of regular sugar! I was elated to find a use for it, though I still have close to a kg to get rid of...]
- 1 tspn lemon juice

Wash the strawberries, dry them, hull them, puree them with a blender [I used a Bamix immersion blender], filter through a sieve, then pour into a saucepan. Heat the puree, then add the sugar and the pectin. Bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes while removing foam carefully [I didn't]. Let it cool.

5. Assembly
Spread a thin layer of glaze on the baked crust. Let it dry for a few minutes. Then spread about 1 cm (more or less, depending on your preference) of crème pâtissière on the crust. If the strawberries are large, cut them in half. Place them decoratively [I crammed as many in as possible, not focusing too much on esthetics] in the tart shell, starting with the largest ones in the center and scaling down toward the edges. Brush with glaze using a brush. If the glaze is too thick, dilute it with a tspn or two of water. Serve as soon as possible.