Monday, June 27, 2011

Going Pro

A little over a year ago, I began my journey into the pastry world. I made a few tarts for a bridal shower last spring, which turned into making a few hundred mini desserts for a wedding last summer, which then turned into my first wedding cake in the fall. Now, a year later I am halfway through pastry school and just finished my biggest baking accomplishment yet. A four tiered wedding cake for two of my best friends. Four flavors of cake, 200 macarons, and one amazing wedding weekend later, I have come to the realization of how much life has changed in just a few months. 

For a long time, I was insistent that baking and cooking was just purely a hobby, and that no, I would not be pursuing it professionally. As a food blogger, I am sure we all get it in our heads at one point that we would love to make our hobby into a career, but always hearing and believing that it was not realistic. Just because you write about food, and love to bake, that does not make you a professional. This is true, but why should that stop you from turning baking/cooking from something you do in your free time, to a fulfilling and satisfying career? I heard an interview with funny man Conan O'Brien a few weeks ago and he said something along the lines of 'turning the thing you love into a career is like playing with fire'.  It's true there is a chance that even though you love it, you may not be good enough at it to turn it into a profession. There is also the chance that if you start doing what was once fun and relaxing as a job day in and day out, it may turn into just that, a job that you no longer look forward to, and then you may have lost a hobby. 

Well, I am taking that risk. Life is too short to be trucking along on a career path that you don't love. It's rare that people can find something that they enjoy and can make a living at, and if you happen to stumble across that, I think you have to go for it. This week I was offered a job at an amazing bakery working for an incredibly talented pastry chef, and I didn't even have to think about my answer. The calm and collected energy in that bakery and the attitude of the owner and the other employees there, made me instantly feel ready to jump in. I am so excited to start this new chapter in my life, because if I get to make things like this cake EVERY week, I think I will be one happy camper. 

Now, about that cake and those macarons! All of the flavors turned out great, and they all kept their intense moistness even after a twelve hour journey up to northern Minnesota. Here are the recipes I used for the cake:

I also made about 200 macarons, in four different flavors. Pistachio macs with white chocolate ganache, yellow macs with lemon curd, orange macs with peach marmalade buttercream, and my favorite, Earl Grey macarons with a orange buttercream. 

If you follow this blog at all you know that I have attempted macarons many times, and have been getting pretty close to getting them perfect. Each time I make them they get better, but I made two key changes this time that I think have made all the difference. First, I am using a different recipe that I found at Not So Humble Pie, I found that it works better for me in my kitchen than the one I had been using previously. Secondly, and most importantly, I left my stand mixer in the cupboard and used my hand mixer for the meringue. Previous to this change, my meringue never got that shiny smooth firm peak that you are supposed to achieve when making the macs. It's a wonder they ever turned out at all before this. 

Earl Grey Macarons with Orange Scented Buttercream
adapted from Not So Humble Pie
yields about 60-70 shells

120 grams almond meal
200 grams powdered sugar
100 grams egg whites
35 grams granulated sugar
tea from 2 earl grey tea bags
black food coloring

Line 3 baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper. 

In your food processor, combine the powdered sugar, almond meal and early grey tea, and pulse a few times to combine, until tea is ground finely. Pour into a small bowl and set aside.

In a medium bowl beat the egg whites on medium high speed with your hand mixer until foamy, then gradually add the sugar and beat until a nice glossy meringue forms. This should take a minute or two on a medium high speed. It should look like shaving cream. Add your food coloring, and mix on low speed just until incorporated. 

Add half of the powdered sugar/almond mixture. With a large spatula, quickly fold the egg whites over themselves to let some of the air out, combining with the almond mixture. Add the rest of the almond mixture and fold gently until your batter has come together, no more than 50 strokes or so. You want a batter that if you let a clump fall off your spatula, it will spread and meld back into itself within ten seconds. If it stands up and does not spread at all, give the batter a few more folds until it does. My best advice here is to test it frequently when you think you are starting to get close to the end product, this will help you to not over mix your batter.

Spoon batter into a piping bag fitted with a plain round tip (one with a fairly large opening). Pipe 1 1/2 inch rounds, evenly spaced, onto your baking sheet. Once all the macarons have been piped, pick up your baking sheet and drop it from about 6 inches above the counter. This impact will bring any air bubbles to the top of the macarons, and help them spread evenly. Do this a few times, then let the macarons sit at room temperature for about an hour before baking. This will create those nice crispy shells and will help prevent the tops from cracking while baking.

After the shells have rested, preheat oven to 290 degrees F, place one rack on the top shelf, and set an empty baking sheet on the rack. I have found this helps them not get too brown before they are done baking. Bake the macarons one pan at a time in the middle of the oven for about 18-20 minutes, depending on how big you piped them.

Honestly the best way to tell if they are done, is to sacrifice one of your shells, pop it off the parchment and break it open. If it is gooey inside, bake for another few minutes, if it is done, take them out. If they are overdone, not to worry, after filling them and letting them age in the refrigerator for a day or two, they will most likely still be delicious.

Let them cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then using a small offset spatula if needed to assist, gently pop them off the silpat and let them cool completely on a cooling rack. 

Orange Italian Meringue Buttercream

4 oz egg whites
8 oz granulated sugar
2 oz water
12 oz unsalted butter, room temperature, cubed
1 tsp vanilla
zest of 1 large orange

Place your egg whites in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. 

Heat the sugar and water in a small sauce pan over high heat. Using a candy thermometer, bring the sugar to a boil and continue cooking until it reaches 230 degrees F. When it hits that temperature, turn your stand mixer to medium to begin mixing the egg whites until they are foamy. When the temperature hits 240 F, remove from heat and slowly pour into the egg whites on a medium low speed. As soon as all of the sugar is in, turn the mixer to medium high and mix until the meringue is cool to touch. Add the butter a few tablespoons at a time and whip until thick. Add the orange zest and mix to incorporate.

Pipe about a teaspoon onto half of the macaron shells, and sandwich with another shell. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours before consuming. You can also freeze filled or unfilled macarons for a few weeks, just thaw filled macs in the fridge overnight. 

***Thanks to Mad Chicken Studio for the beautiful pictures of the cake and macarons, and to La Petite Fleur for the lovely flowers***

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Spinach & Goat Cheese Turnovers

I have been sitting on this cookbook review for a long, long time now. The nice people over at Sterling Publishing sent me a copy of The Green Market Baking Book by Laura C. Martin, and asked if I would like to cook something out of it, or do a review of the book itself. I read a summary and quickly said yes. Well that was a couple months ago, and I am just now getting around to this post.

It wasn't for lack of interest, that is for sure. Things like school and work, vacations and appointments, weddings and funerals, cake orders and homework got in the way. The cookbook is wonderful, separated into seasons, providing a guide of produce that is ripe for the picking for that season, and corresponding recipes to use that produce. It has a lovely little canning guide in the back, for when you get a little too grabby at the farmers market and buy 20 pounds of peaches. It has beautiful illustrations and most importantly, delicious recipes. It is not necessarily a 'healthy' cookbook, but it is geared towards using fresh food in your baking, and finding natural ways to use natural sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup.

Since one of my goals this summer is to get my butt to the farmer's market more often, I think this book will come in handy when looking for things to do with my bounty. There were quite a few recipes that I was wanting to try right off the bat, but I could not resist spinach and goat cheese wrapped in crispy filo dough. I am glad I picked it first, they were a delicious little treat, and would make a great appetizer, or a main course when paired with a nice green salad.

Completely out of character, I followed the instructions exactly from the book, and the results were great. Me being me, however, I couldn't just leave it at that. I had to make my own version. I nixed the spinach, and instead made some turnovers with brussels sprouts, shallots, bacon, thyme, lemon, and goat cheese. I won't say which version I liked better, they were both outstanding, you can decide for yourself. You can find the recipe for my version here at Honest Cooking.

Spinach & Goat Cheese Turnovers
recipe by Laura C Martin from The Green Market Baking Book

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 green onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large bunches spinach, stemmed and chopped
2 ounces softened goat cheese
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 tablespoons parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon lemon zest
salt and pepper to taste
4 frozen phyllo sheets, thawed
1/2 cup, 1 stick, unsalted butter, melted

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute for about 5 minutes. Turn the heat to high, and add the spinach. Saute until spinach has wilted, about 5 minutes. Drain the spinach mixture by pressing it with a wooden spoon to get rid of as much excess moisture as possible.

Transfer spinach mixture to a bowl and let cool. Add the goat cheese, pine nuts, parmesan, herbs, and zest. Mix to combine, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place one phyllo sheet on your work surface. Cut the phyllo lengthwise into 3 equal strips. Brush one of the strips with melted butter and place 1 heading tablespoon of filling at one end of the strip. Starting with the corned, fold the dough over the filling to form a triangle. Repeat folding the triangle over itself the entire length of the strip. Brush top with butter and place on a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining pastry and filling.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 F and bake for about 15 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Serve hot, or at room temperature.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chocolate Caramel Banana Hazelnut Tart

**This post was originally published on, a brand new online food magazine, for which I am a contributor. The website launched in March, and it is a great new resource for recipes, travel, restaurant reviews and foodie opinion pieces. Check it out here!**

Haven’t had enough chocolate and caramel yet? Don’t worry, you can eat the last of the salted chocolate covered caramels that you may be hoarding, because there is a new treat in town. I promised I would share an amazing, incredibly decadent tart with you, and I wouldn’t dream of letting you down.

It’s got chocolate and caramel (of course) but it also has bananas, and nutella, and hazelnuts. I personally don’t think it gets much better than that. I have made many chocolate tarts before, most of them fairly simple, and to be honest, a little boring. Don’t get me wrong, people love a chocolate crust, with chocolate filling, and chocolate topping (and if you want to get really crazy, served with chocolate ice cream), but I was looking for something with a little more oomph, and a little more depth.

I found it in this tart.The crust and the chocolate ganache topping are fairly straight forward but what is hiding between is sublime and takes this tart to a whole new level. It’s an oozy, gooey, banana-caramel-nutella filling that just might make your knees weak. If that happens, just find a big comfy chair, sit yourself down, and dig in.

Chocolate Caramel Banana Tart
adapted from
makes 1 14-inch rectangular tart or 1 9-inch round tart

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
3 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup nutella
2 bananas, peeled and mashed

Ganache Topping
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together just until thoroughly combined. Add the egg yolks one at a time, mixing until incorporated after each addition. Add the flour and the cocoa powder and mix just until combined, scraping the bowl down as needed. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and press gently into a ball. Shape into a disc, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out to fit your tart pan, until it is about 1/4 - 3/8 inch thick. Carefully transfer the dough to your tart pan, and press gently to fit it into all the nooks and crannies. If it falls apart at all, it is okay, just piece it together and press it into the pan. Cut off any excess dough, and line the shell with parchment paper. Fill the paper with dry beans or pie weights and bake on the middle rack for 15-20 minutes. When it is completely cooked, remove the pie weights and parchment paper, and let cool completely.

In a medium sized saucepan over high heat, bring the sugar and water up to a boil, and continue to boil until it turns a deep caramel color. Remove from the heat, and quickly and carefully add the cream and butter, and stir to combine. It is normal for it to bubble vigorously. Return the saucepan back to the stove and cook while stirring over low heat until it is smooth. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Once it has cooled, stir in the nutella and the banana until smooth. Pour into prepared crust, and chill for at least 2 hours.


Place the chocolate in a medium stainless or glass bowl. In a saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer, then remove from heat and pour over chocolate. Let sit for about 30 seconds, then stir with a wooden spoon or spatula until completely smooth. Let the ganache cool for a few minutes, and then pour over filled tart. Smooth quickly with an offset spatula and sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts. Chill until firm.

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