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Kiss and Tell – Making Choux Pastry

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Kiss and Tell

 What better way to introduce an early Valentine’s Day post than with one of the most interesting European customs.  How people greet each other.

 When Americans greet each other, it’s often with a hug.  Americans love to hug. Whether it’s a far-off cheek-hug from an acquaintance or a big bear hug from a long lost friend. One thing I miss about the US, are the big hearty hugs from friends and relatives. Europeans, however, don’t seem too keen on the full body contact.  

 In most European countries, many people greet each other with at least one slight kiss on the cheek.  First let me explain, these kisses are not full lip kisses but rather cheek-to-cheek grazes followed by an air-kiss.  Like the kind you see the ‘girls’ giving each other on Sex and The City episodes. Even though this custom seems fairly straight forward, it can be one of the most confusing rituals to outsiders. 

 It’s not uncommon to be confused.  How many kisses?  Which cheek do you start with?  Do men kiss other men?  Is kissing acceptable in business?  Can I just shake hands? Or what about hugging?  All are very valid questions. 

All over Holland, the rules are this:  Greet with three kisses, starting from the right cheek. Unless you are related or gay, men typically don’t kiss other men.  In business it is acceptable to shake hands unless you know the person very well.  If you do, then a kiss-trio won’t raise any eyebrows.  

In some other countries, the rules are not so clear.  Take France for instance, where ‘une  bise’ customs vary from 1 to 5 kisses (yes

Kissing Map of France

 5!) depending which part of France you are in.

When in Paris,  2 kisses are the norm and even hetero men kiss other men.  In Normandy, you can’t get away with less than 4 and on some islands, you’ll be kissing all day! And there, men never kiss other men unless their related.  How confusing is that??  How on earth is one to know?  To the right is a kissing map of France stating local customs by area.



So folks,  as a public service,  when travelling to Europe,  please check with the local Kissing Customs to avoid embarrassing moments.  Happy travelling and pucker up! 


For this post,    I’m going to give you all one of the simplest but most impressive techniques in French cooking…How to make Choux Pasty.  Choux Pasty is probably named because the finished products look like little cabbages. (Choux means cabbage in French) If you don’t know,  Choux Pastry what is used to make Cream Puff shells.  And WHO doesn’t LOVE creampuffs??  This particular pastry, as simple as it is to prepare,  is also the base of some of the most impressive desserts of all time. Here in the Netherlands, tiny crispy filled choux balls are filled with cream and covered with caramel or chocolate to make Profiteroles.  In France,  it is considered so luxurious, that a ‘Croquembouche’ or tall tower of tiny cream filled cream puffs swathed in an ethereal cloud of spun caramelized sugar is the traditional French wedding cake. 

Today’s recipe uses Choux Paste as a base.  This recipe was named after a famous bicycle race that is overshadowed by the more famous Tour de France.  Paris-Brest-Paris or (PBP) occurs every 4 years.  For a perfect Valentine’s Day dessert, make a Paris-Brest in heart form.


Paris Brest Pastry

Choux Pastry:

1 cup (135 grams) all purpose flour or bread flour

1 teaspoon granulated white sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons) (85 grams) unsalted butter

1 cup (240 ml) water

4 large eggs lightly beaten


1 egg beaten

1/2 cup (50 grams) shaved almonds

 Whipped Cream:

1 cup (240 ml) heavy whipping cream

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon (14 grams) granulated white sugar

2 tablespoons cocoa, nutella, or Hazelnut flavored “International Coffees” powder


Powdered (Confectioners or icing) sugar.

 Basic Preparation of Choux Paste: 

Gently heat the water, milk and butter together until it just begins to boil.  Remove the pan from the heat and beat in the flour immediately until you have a thick smooth paste. Add the eggs a little at a time beating well until the mixture becomes a shiny paste.

 Note: This is the base for tons of great recipes. For savory dishes and hors d’ourves, leave out the sugar. See below for ideas)

 Heat the oven to 350F (175C). Grease a cookie sheet. Put the warm paste in a piping bag, or use a large spoon. Form the paste thickly into a circle. Don’t be afraid to pile it high, about 3 inches.  Brush lightly with beaten egg. Sprinkle with shaved almonds. Bake about 30 minutes until crisp and dry.  Cool completely.

Meanwhile, in a med-large bowl, beat the cream, vanilla, sugar, cocoa (nutella or hazelnut powder) until still peaks form.  

Just before serving, slice the circle carefully lengthwise in half.  Remove top of circle. Fill with cream mixture. Replace top of circle.  Dust with powdered sugar.  

Tips:  For interesting hor d’ourves,  form choux pastry in small piles (about 1 tablespoon of paste).  When cooled, slice open the top and fill with your favorite salad (tuna, chicken,egg, etc…) .  Replace top. 

Baked, unfilled Choux pastries, freeze well.  Make a bunch and keep in the freezer.

The Fat-Pants Experiment

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

The Fat-Pants Experiment

Living abroad has been a great experience for me.  I love learning about the cultural differences and, more importantly, the similarities of people around the world.  One thing that I learned is that life is really not so different wherever you live.  People all over the world have the same basic concerns: gainful employment, a safe and dry place to raise a family, food on the table, clothes on their backs, a little entertainment from time to time, and so on. Not so much different from life in the US.     

 What can be very different are the details.  Take baking, for instance. Besides the obvious metric distinctions, there is a vast difference in how Americans and Europeans bake.  In America, we bake using volume.  This means we measure using cups and teaspoons.  Virtually every recipe in America is written in volume measures.

 Here in Europe, dry ingredients are almost universally measured by weight. Only liquid is measured in volume. This was somewhat of a culture shock to me since it wasn’t what I was used to.  So on my next foray back to the US, a brand new set of measuring cups and spoons got a one way trip to Holland.  Since most of my favorite recipes are of American decent, I still faithfully use them.  When some unsuspecting person asks me for a recipe, I can literally feel their disappointment when they scan the recipe only to find that it is not only in English, but also in volume to boot.  Can you translate this to Dutch?  How many grams are in a stick of butter?   How much does 1 ¾ Cups of flour weigh?   Now-a-days, as a public service to my fellow Dutchmen (and -women) I spend a decent amount of my time weighing out my recipes.  While I was doing my translations, I came across a few things:

 – A cup of flour does not weigh the same as a cup of sugar, nor does a cup of lead or a cup of feathers for that matter.

– The weight of a cup of flour can differ greatly depending on how you packed it, type of flour, humidity, etc…

I’ll tell you, it took me a while to get the hang of using weight as measures.  But now that I’ve got it down pat, I am totally convinced that using weight gives more consistent results to the finished product.  Another benefit is that recipes scale better.  If I wanted to half a recipe that calls for ¾ cup of flour, I’d have to rely on my 5th grade fractions lesson…and chances are I don’t have a measuring cup for that amount and end up estimating anyway.  Using weight measures, halving a recipe for 75 grams of flour is quite easy using 3rd grade division.  75 divided by 2 = 37.5.   Easy Peasy.

Still not convinced?  Let’s do a few experiments.  Let’s use your favorite pair of jeans as an example.  I don’t know about you, but after the holidays, my jeans were fitting a bit snugly.  The decision on whether to take your fat pants out of the mothballs is a ‘volume’ measure.  In this case, your volume has exceeded the content of your ‘skinny’ jeans.   Now at this point, we suspect the additional volume that is imposed on our jeans is caused by a few extra pounds of weight gain (or we can just use the excuse that they shrunk in the wash ;-)) However, if we want to know exactly how much the damage was, the most accurate measure is by getting on the scale.  Thus concluding, that the most accurate and consistent measure is weight. 

Let’s try another experiment that doesn’t require you to gain 10 pounds.  Take a bag of flour, a measuring cup (1 Cup measure) and a food scale.  Yes, even that old Weight Watchers scale that you got in the 70’s will do. First, scoop the cup into the bag of flour and then level with a knife.  Weigh the cup. Mark the weight and empty the cup.  Do it again.  Do you notice any differences in the weight?  I’ll bet you do.   Next, using a tablespoon, spoon flour into the cup and then level off with a knife. Again, weigh the filled cup, marking the weight.  I’ll bet this method of filling the cup weighs less than the scoop and level method. 

Now, take an empty bowl put it on the scale and turn it on.  The scale should read zero.  Spoon out 100 grams of flour.  Empty the bowl and do it again.  You see, its 100 grams EVERY TIME!  Ok, so maybe you didn’t need to do this last test, it was just for effect anyway. 

As you see, now, I am a total weight convert.

 This recipe is not only a good manner of using your new-found skills. It also has a bit of a story.  Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804 – 1877) was a famous poet from Finland and considered Finland’s National Poet.  In honor of his birthday, on Feb 5th, his wife allegedly created  these muffin-like creations for his special day.  According to legend, Runeberg enjoyed one of these tarts with Swedish punch liquor) on every breakfast. Runeberg’s tarts are typically eaten only in Finland and are generally available from the beginning of January to Runeberg’s birthday on February 5.

I know, I know.  This recipe is a bit all over the place when it comes to weight versus volume measures.  But it’s an authentic recipe.  Be prepared to use quite a few bowls for this one.  But it creates a unique looking item that’s a nice change from muffins or cupcakes.

 Runeberg Tarts

1 egg
25 ml sugar  ( 1/8 C)
50 brown sugar (firmly packed)  (1/4 C)
100 g butter
¼ C  cream
150 grams flour
1 tsp baking powder
50 grams ground almonds
50 ml ground or finely chopped walnuts or hazelnuts or ground dark sugar cookies)
1 tsp
vanilla extract
½ tsp almond essence
(a dash of almond liqueur  — 
eg “Amaretto”)

Sugar syrup:

100 ml sugar
50 ml water
1 – 2 tbsp (or to taste) Swedish
punch, rum or cognac

1/4 C Raspberry jam

Sugar icing:

Icing sugar
dash of almond essence

Melt the butter and let it cool slightly. Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Beat the egg and sugars until fluffy, add almond essence (and liqueur), melted butter and whipped cream.

Mix together the dry ingredients. (If you do not have walnuts, hazelnuts or sugar cookies at hand, you can omit them or replace them with ground or chopped almonds.) Gently fold the dry ingredients into the batter.

Lightly butter six cups from a standard muffin pan and spoon the batter into them, leveling the batter.  It will not rise very much. Bake the cakes at 375°C   (175 °C) for 15 – 20 minutes or when a cake tester/toothpick inserted in the middle of them comes out clean.

Meanwhile, prepare the sugar syrup. Place the sugar, water and the alcohol of your choice into a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to the boil, so that the sugar melts and alcohol evaporates. Remove from heat and set aside.

Take the hot cakes out of the oven, prick them with a toothpick, and drizzle the warm sugar syrup on top of them. Use all of the syrup. Let the cakes absorb the syrup for half an hour or longer. When the cakes seem thoroughly moist, gently remove them from the moulds and flip them over.

If the bottoms of the cakes are uneven, cut them flat carefully, using a serrated knife, so that the cakes will stand straight. This is most easily done while the cakes are still inside the moulds. Cut by moving the knife along the rim of the mould.

Cut a small round hole on the top of cakes using a small teaspoon (see picture below). Fill the holes with raspberry topping and let it set in refrigerator.

Meanwhile, prepare a very thick sugar icing by mixing a dash or water with icing sugar. Flavor the icing with a dash of almond essence. Pipe the icing around the raspberry topping on top of cakes (see picture above). Let the sugar icing set and serve the cakes with coffee or tea.
Makes about 6 cakes.

A Tart is Born – Lemon Linzer Tort

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

A Tart is Born!

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Every so often we all get into a rut.  One day looks like the other.  We have the same routine day after day; Get up, go to work, come home.  Weekends all look the same.  We seem to have the same conversations with the same people.  “Hey Mom, How are you feeling?  Good?  Great!   How’s the weather over there? …” .   While some people find routine comforting, I find it blaringly nerve racking.   However, lately I find myself in a sort of cooking rut.  I seem to have a tried and true repertoire of recipes that I keep going to time and time again.  If it wasn’t for Marko doing the mid-week kitchen duties, I’m sure I’d be putting out things from my kitchen that you could set your watch by:  Monday: Meatloaf, Tuesday: Chicken, Wednesday: Spaghetti…

Take this weekend for instance, I’ve been honorably asked by a Slow Food colleague, Henk, to bake cakes and make hors d’ourves for his 60th birthday reception.   “Lisa, you are the best baker I know and I want you to make my birthday cake.”  Wow, I am totally honored!  Henk is a consummate foodie and knows many a good professional baker and chef.  For him to ask a hobby-baker like myself to make his birthday cake is something big for me.   Henk made a few requests that I make my Raspberry-Chocolate Linzer tort and jalapeno-poppers but the rest is up to me. 

My mind starts wandering to what else I can make…Cheesecake, Black Forest cake, brownies, etc.  I go on a few days with these in mind, mentally making a shopping list of supplies.  Then suddenly it hits me.  I ALWAYS make these things.  I made these things for our LAST party.  They’re my standard go-to recipes.  Sure, I can make them in advance, they freeze like a dream, but they are ooh-soo-standard as far as I’m concerned.  If I’m going to make my mark as a Pastry Chef, then I need to be a bit more creative.  I need to make something new. 

Now I really hate to go into a party with something experimental, but I’m going to think up something special.  To play it a bit on the safe side, I’m going to try variations on a theme.  I just love the combination of lemon and poppy seeds, so why don’t try a lemon-poppy tart?   A spicy cookie crust laced heavily with poppy seeds and a creamy lemony filling.  Yeah, it’s worth a try. 

So I take my standard Linzer torte crust recipe and I substitute poppy seeds for the ground almonds.  Then I make a filling using 3 egg yolks, ½ cup lemon juice, 3 tablespoons of lemonciello (lemon liquor) and a can of sweetened condensed milk.    The filling doesn’t seem enough to fill the crust.  (I’m using a 20cm glass tart pan rather than a standard pie plate).    I debate with myself on whether to fold the edges in or let them stand straight up.  Hmm, I don’t know how much the filling will puff up.

I opt for straight up.  I bake it for 30 mins at 325F.   So far, so good.  The filling didn’t puff up at all.  Now I need to decide on a topping.  Meringue is the obvious choice and it’s been ages since I’ve had lemon meringue pie.    In the meantime, the pie cools and gets put in the freezer.  The party is still a week away.  Introducing Lemon-Poppy Tart.   A tart in born.

The verdicts of the Lemon-Poppy tart are in, folks!!  And the result was a REAL WINNER!!   I topped with soft-peaked meringue (3 egg whites, 3/4 cups sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter)  that I beat to the consistancy of marshmellow fluff and topped the tart from end to end.  Made decorative peaks.  Bake at 400 for 10-15 mins until dry on top and the peaks are nicely browned. Watch Carefully!!   Cool Completely.

Even though I made other cakes and pies,  this one had people actually FIGHTING over it.  The contrast of lemon with a hint of alcohol, with creamy meringue atop the crunchy poppy seed crust was divine!  Really!  4 people fighting over the last piece.  The fight was resolved by 1 plate and 4 forks.

In order for you to make the lemon version…you’re going to have to get the original.  Here it is:

Chocolate- Raspberry Linzer Torte


1 1/2  sticks butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice

1 egg
5 ounces of almonds, toasted and ground
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch salt

½ Cup chopped chocolate (milk or bittersweet), melted
1 cup raspberry jam (or your favorite type of jam)


In an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes. Add honey, orange zest, cinnamon and spices. Continue mixing for one more minute. Add egg. Mix until well blended

Sift the dry ingredients together. Mix the sifted dry ingredients to the butter mixture until a dough is formed.

Wrap in plastic film and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
Grease the bottom and sides of a torte pan. Line the bottom
of the pan with wax or parchment paper. Remove dough from the
refrigerator and divide in two. Sprinkle the work surface with flour and roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thick, forming a 15-inch circle. For the second half of dough, roll it to 1/4-inch thick to create a 9-by-12-inch rectangle. Refrigerate both the top and bottom for about 20 minutes.

Line the bottom and sides of the prepared torte pan with the circle

For the second half of dough, roll it to 1/4-inch thick to create a 9-by-12-inch rectangle. Refrigerate both the top and bottom for about 20 minutes.

Mix the raspberry jam with the melted chocolate.

Remove from refrigerator and fill bottom half with raspberry jam/ chocolate mixture.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Create a lattice with the
rectangular piece of dough by cutting 12 9-inch strips.

Fold the edges of the dough up and over the top of the torte.

Bake in oven for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown.

The Perfect Baguette

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

The Perfect Baguette

 It’s weekend!! Finally!!!  And as usual, I gleefully head to my kitchen sanctuary to work on this weekend’s projects. Since it was so busy last weekend with Rebecca’s birthday party, I decided  to take it easy.   I start off with my obligatory Saturday standard, homemade baguettes.  Yes, home made baguettes, I said. Before you “Ooh” and “Ahh” like I’ve just proposed to walk a high wire over a pit of flaming lava, I have to let you in on something.  About a year ago, I got into a sort of obsession to make the perfect French baguette.  I mean, I’ve spent tons of time creating poolishs (pre-fermented dough), and triple kneading methods.  I’ve translated recipes from French, Italian, and even Russian.  I’ve used regular flour, bread flour, wheat flour.  Used milk, starter, special pink Himalayan salt, fresh yeast, dried yeast… Yes, I’ve paid my dues for this cause and usually ended up in varying states of failure.  That is until I came across a recommendation on a book from my favorite resource, The Mother Earth News. (Ok, I admit, I’m a closet tree-hugger).  The book is called “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day” by Zoe Francois and Jeff Herzberg.  What they propose in this book is a manner to make bread dough without kneading and by using the simplest of ingredients: regular flour, dry yeast, salt and water.  “No kneading needed?” you ask.  We’ll it seems that in order to make fluffy and high bread, you need to convince the dough to get the gluten strands in the flour to lengthen. Apparently this happens in 2 ways; either by vigorous kneading, or over time. Now, I love kneading.  It’s rhythmic and lets you take out a week’s worth frustration on a little soft piece of dough, which in turn thanks you for your effort by producing fluffy white (or wheat) loaves. It just takes soooo long to get a result.  If I want fresh warm bread for breakfast, I’m going to have to get up at 4am.  Ahem…I love my family, but the only thing I plan on doing at 4am on a Sunday morning is sleeping.  For this, a mix-and-wait method is a real boon.  Not to knock Jeff and Zoe’s efforts, but this mix-and-wait method is also not new. From what I read it has also been around for a while.  I remember an aunt that did the same thing and her dinner rolls were just delicious.  They did, however, make a lovely book. 

Nowadays, if someone would ask me to name 3 things that are always in my refrigerator I’d say:  white wine (from the Alsace, of course), zucchini pickles, and bread dough.  I love this recipe.  I can make the perfect baguette in the same time it takes me to go to the store and buy one.   I finally found a recipe that is so laughingly easy that we can have great bread every weekend or even every day for that matter. (In a pinch, it can also make pretty good pizza dough and bagels too.  But those are other stories) To bake off your baguette; simply sprinkle the surface of the cold dough with flour. Grab a fistful about the size of a grapefruit. (*-see bottom footnote)  Take the blob of dough and plunk it down on a lightly floured surface, floured side down.  Push it into a rectangle form.  Roll into a log a bit shorter than the baguette form pan. Roll the log to smoothen and lengthen it. Pick up the dough at the ends and put it in the form.  

 Even though I have a pizza stone, I bake my baguettes in a baguette pan so the baguettes come out straight and round.  This is a pan with slots for 3 baguettes made by Chicago Metallic. I think I bought it from someone at  I love this pan. It can bake 3 loaves but I always bake one at a time.  This way it gets evenly brown all the way around and I don’t have 3 loves ‘calling’ to me.   After it’s in the form, wait 20 minutes and then slash the loaf on a steep angle (about 30 degrees) and about ¼ inch deep.  There are fancy knives and razors that do this, but I find that any small sharp serrated knife works great.  I use a tomato knife by Henkel’s. Then again, I love this knife and I use it for everything.   Just be decisive and slash away, just like Dexter would.  It should look like this:  

Slash at 30 degrees



Add a cup or so of hot water to the drip pan and let ér bake for about 30 mins.  The crust should be darker than golden brown and have even darker spots on it.  It’s ready!  Try or should I say I DARE you to wait until it’s totally cool before tearing into it.  If you wait,  you will be rewarded with it singing to you.  That’s the sound the crust makes when it starts to cool. The delicious crackles of fresh baked bread.  Mmmm. 

This dough is said to be able to stay in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.  But I find that it gets runny after about a week and a half and makes not very good bread after that. My suggestion is that if you want bread for the weekend; start your fresh your dough Wednesday evening. A batch makes about 3 good sized loaves.  If you like that sour-dough taste, then don’t wash out the dough container.  Just scrape out any hard, crusty bits and make the next batch right in. The result will be a greyer dough, a nice custard crumb with that characteristic tang of sour dough and NO CLEAN UP   🙂  

Storing bread tip:  Never ever, ever store baguettes or boules in paper or plastic bags.  This causes the crispy crust to be soft and gummy.  If on the off chance that you have leftovers, simply leave it on a cutting board and cover with a cotton towel, just like they do in France.  Good bread will stay crispy for a day or two. 

Since I am such a fan of this book and bread, I will leave it to you, kind Readers, to support Zoe and Jeff by purchasing your own copy. However, I just feel inclined to share my metric equivalents for the recipe with you. 

No-Knead Baguette or Boule  dough for the metrically inclined

Adapted from ‘Artisan bread in Five minutes a day’ by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzburg

700 ml warm (not hot) water

2 packages of dried yeast  (about 4 teaspoons)

1 tablespoon salt

1 kilo white unbleached flour


1  plastic storage box with lid about 5 to 8 liters (closed but not airtight).  About the size of a large shoe box.

1 wooden spoon

Baguette pan, baking sheet or pizza stone

Mix water, yeast and salt in the box.  Add flour and mix until all the flour is incorporated. No kneading…just mix.  Cover and set at room temperature about 2 hours until double in size.  Put it in the refrigerator at least overnight and up to a week and a half.

* By the way,  this is also nice for boule dough.  A boule is a round bread.  Simply shape the floured dough into a ball by stretching the floured surface and gathering the loose ends on the underside.  Let sit on a floured (or cornmeal) board for about 40 mins.  Slash decoratively and bake for about 40-45 mins directly on the pizza stone or a sturdy baking sheet.