Almond Poppyseed Loaf

Let me be upfront here. Yes, I am a pastry chef. So, yes, I do spend my days melting chocolate, baking off cookies, crafting desserts, and producing sweet sauces; but I am not always baking and making sweets at home. Although, if you do look at my last few blog posts it may seem as though that is all I have been doing. Bananas Foster, Grapefruit Bunt Cake, Calas … Trust me there have been lots of savory natured things in between all of these. Yet, once again this post is of the sweet persuasion; but not tooth achingly sweet. This is just the right amount of sugary - almond - cake - loaf goodness. An Almond Poppyseed Loaf, to be exact. I was inspired to make this because of our most recent trip to New Jersey. While we were there I had this huge craving for a poppyseed cake. It is a very eastern european item and while growing up in Garfield, N.J. there were two different Polish bakeries we frequented that made them. The bakery version is more like a very sweet bread-like item that beholds a very moist poppy seed / almond flavored filling. One of the bakeries made it in a swirl, and the other made it like a stuffed loaf. I always loved it, and I can recall many evenings as a child sitting with my family snacking on this cake with tea while the adults talked.

Almond Poppyseed Loaf
Almond Poppyseed Loaf

When I was last in New Jersey I went to four different bakeries in search of a Poppyseed Cake. The first bakery was closed! The next bakery said they didn’t make any that day. The bakery after that one was closed too! (It was a Monday.) So I went into the Polish market around the corner from my parents home…no luck there either! I even wandered the isles looking for some sort of poppy seed / almond flavored like ingredients. My thought was if I could get my hands on anything like the filling I could attempt to make it on my own. I could not find any, just walked out of there with some kielbasa for my father-in-law and a beet salad for my husband and I to share. As we walked out I walked next door to a tiny bakery with only two cases. And there it was! Happily I purchased the cake and took it to my in-law’s home to share.

Low and behold this cake was a big disappointment! It was dense, had bits of candied citrus in it, and it possessed a very dry texture. It was totally missing the light and airy sweet bread with that moist gush of poppyseed and almond goodness. I nearly teared when I ate my slice. I was leaving the following day, there would be no poppyseed cake until my next visit back - but only if I am luckier than I was on this trip! While I was back home in Seattle I kept thinking about the flavors of that cake. I have to do a bit of research still on a recipe to master anything like the cake of my memory, but in the present I will have to settle on the Almond Poppyseed Loaf I created. The flavor profile hit very close to home, and the loaf had the loveliest texture and chew to it. I will admit I had two slices and another one the next day. I am grateful that Brian brought the remainder of this loaf in for his coworkers to try or I could have easily sat down and finished it while watching a Netflix marathon of any kind! I will report back in the future on a Poppyseed Cake, in the meantime this Almond Poppyseed Loaf will behold my heart.

IMG_0739
IMG_0739

Almond Poppyseed Loaf (Makes one 8 inch loaf)

8 oz butter, cut into small cubes, plus extra for greasing your pan

3 large eggs plus 3 large yolks

2 tsp Vanilla extract

1 3/4 cup flour, plus extra for flouring pan

1/2  tsp sea salt

2 tbsp poppyseed

1 1/4 cup sugar

7 oz almond paste, broken up into chunks

1/4-1/3 cup sliced almonds, optional

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease you loaf pan well and line it with parchment paper (I like to lay a long enough sheet of parchment paper into the pan so it covers the bottom of the pan, the sides, and has a bit of an overhang. This will help you lift the loaf out of the pan easily once it is cooled.) Flour the sides of the pan that is exposed.

Next, in the base of a food processor place your sugar and your almond paste and pulse until the almond paste is broken down and evenly distributed amongst the sugar.You want to be sure the almond paste is no longer in clumps, and as finely broken down as the sugar is. Also in a bowl whisk together your flour, sea salt, and poppyseed.

Then, in the bowl of a mixer place your butter along with your almond sugar mixture. Mix this until it is well combined and fluffy. Add the eggs and the yolk one at a time. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl while doing so. Once it is mixed cohesively and smooth, gently stir in the flour mixture. Mix until it is blended - but no further.

Finally, pour the batter into your prepared pan. Sprinkle the sliced almonds evenly over the top if using. Place on a sheet tray and then place in the center of your oven. Bake about an hour, rotating it half way though. Be sure to test the cake after an hour. This is a very rich and dense loaf, so you want to be sure that a tooth pick comes out clean once it is inserted for testing. Mine baked for about an hour and fifteen minutes, but it can vary from oven to oven. Remove from oven and let cool an hour before removing it from the pan. Slice and serve once cool but at room temperature. (Will store at room temperature, wrapped in plastic, for up to four days.)

Grapefruit Bundt Cake with Star Anise Glaze

IMG_0696 The last couple of weeks Brian and I have been fighting a cold. Brian came home from a business trip feeling “head cold-ish’. He was feeling on the mend when we headed out to New Jersey for a quick trip to visit with our families. On our last full day there I felt something was coming on myself. No fun!!! By the time we were back in Seattle I was in full combat with this head cold ugliness. Once I was all better, Brian received round two! Napping, cold meds, hot lemon and honey water, cough drops, and sniffles. In two weeks we have been home we have been trying our best to not be cranky, but the influx of this illness has put us to the test.

The plus side, we got to spend a short but fun visit with our loved ones on the east coast. Lots of laughs and giggles were had. We spent an afternoon in Manhattan at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, got to see a dusting of snow, and ate a lot. We had some good New York pizza, feasted at a Polish restaurant, and my mom made my favorite dish of her's - lentil soup. It was an overall amusing trip. The colds we acquired though equaled to no fun.

IMG_0680

Due to the “ick” we've been experiencing we have overloaded ourselves with vitamin C. Naval oranges, pink grapefruits, meyer lemons, limes, blood oranges; you name it we have been ingesting it. Citrus in salads, citrus with roasted veggies, citrus in quinoa, citrus with soup…I think you get the feeling of where we were going. When I looked at the grapefruits instead of eating it whole I thought - Cake! After all, we have been so good. We were eating healthy and now almost fully rid of this yuckiness - we deserved a treat.

I made a bundt cake with lots of grapefruit zest in the batter. I made a syrup out of the juice from the grapefruit and gently spooned it over the freshly baked cake while still warm from the oven. Once the cake was cooled I pooped it out of the pan and drizzled it with a star anise spiced glaze. We enjoyed it with extra sliced citrus and mugs of tea. It was moist and slightly sweet, not to mention it paired well with the tea. Eating all that citrus to combat our colds was tasty, but I think in the cake form it is best. I just wish there was more, we shared it and disappeared fast!

IMG_0698

Grapefruit Bundt Cake with Star Anise Glaze (Makes one 9 inch round cake)

Cake

8 oz butter, softened (plus extra for pan)

2 1/2 cups sugar

6 eggs

1 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract

3 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp sea salt

1 cup yogurt

1/3 cup grapefruit juice (freshly squeezed)

2 tbsp grapefruit zest

Syrup

1/4 cup grapefruit juice (freshly squeezed)

3/4 cup sugar

Glaze

*Note: If you are not a fan of Star Anise you do not have to use it. You can simply replace it with vanilla extract to keep the glaze more simple.

2 cups powdered sugar

1/4 cup water

1 tsp ground star anise

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour your pan generously. In a bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt, and set aside. In a small bowl stir together your grapefruit juice and zest and set aside as well.

Next, in a large bowl mix your butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl in-between each egg; mixing until completely blended. Add in your vanilla and stir it together until combined. In two parts alternate adding the flour and then the yogurt.

Then, once all is combined stir in your  juice and zest mixture. When your batter seems evenly mixed pour it into your prepared pan and place in the center of the oven. Bake about and hour, rotating it half way though. Test it with a tooth pick to check the doneness of the cake. when toothpick is removed form the cake cleanly you should remove it from the oven.

Meanwhile, you should begin to make your syrup. Place the juice and the sugar in a small pan and bring to a simmer. You want to stir it continuously until the sugar  is dissolved. Promptly remove the pot from the heat, and with a sharp knife poke several wholes around the top of the cake. Generously spoon the syrup over the cake letting it seep into it. Place the cake (in the pan) in a spot to cool completely. At lest a hour.

Finally, you can make your glaze for the cake. In a bowl whisk together your powdered sugar, star anise, and water. Whisk it until smooth. Gently remove the cake from the pan. I used an offset spatula to carefully loosen the cake from the sides of the pan (you might need a firm hand in doing this as the syrup may have made the cake stick to the pan just a bit). I inserted the spatula along the side of the cake and gently nudged the cake away from the pan, then you flip the cake over onto a wire cooling rack over a sheet pan. Easily pour or spoon the glaze over the cake little by little. Let it drip on down the sides and become set onto the cake. Let the glaze set about 15 minutes before serving.

Cake will keep about 3 - 4 days if wrapped in plastic. Cake can be refrigerated, but let the cake come to room temperature before eating for best texture and flavor.

 

Bananas Foster

As always I like to keep fresh fruits on hand. At almost any given time you will find whatever fruit in season, and within reason; placed in a bowl on my dining room table. Two weeks ago it laid quite abundant with bananas. Coincidentally we were planned on taking a trip back to the east coast to visit with family, but what to do with these bananas? I hate to leave them here and come home to find out they spoiled. Normally when I have a few bananas that are ripe and I am not ready to use it is easy to peel them and seal them in plastic and place in the freezer for a future baking need. But these bananas were no way near ripe yet. That is when I though about Bananas Foster. Bananas that are sliced, sweetly sauted, flambed, and spooned warm over ice-cream. This is the perfect dish for bananas that are still firm. This is because if you were to use bananas that were quite ripe they turn too mushy as they cook.

IMG_0511

I learned to make this dish when I was in culinary school. Our last class was to work (both front and back of the house) of the fine dinning restaurant on campus where Bananas Foster was on the menu. When working the front of house and this dessert was ordered you had to wheel a cart over to the table (this cart was stocked with bananas, brown sugar, butter, rum, and a small portable butane burner); and prepare the dessert in front of the guests. The reason for doing this table side was for the show and spectacle of it. Sounds simple, yes? But hold on there just a moment. Let me use this moment to state that I completely disliked doing this and was terrified each time it was ordered. Each and every time an order would come through I could feel the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, while a small sweat would start to form under my pressed white button up dress shirt.

IMG_0542I personally felt as though we did not get enough time to practice the recipe ourselves before making it. When making this dish as you start to flambe the pan with the rum -if done right- a flame will shoot up out of the pan burning off the alcohol in it. In my opinion, and that of some of my classmates; the ceilings were not very high in the dinning room. I had this gut wrenching panicked feeling that the ceiling would end up with a smoke stain or worse. Not exactly the type of experience you want when dinning at a fine restaurant. Rest assure that as we finished out the course there were no flambe casualties. The ceiling remain smoked stained free, no unintentional fires started, and I became much more confident in making this dish.

IMG_0519

That is until I made it at home the other day. It had been quite a while since I flambed  anything, and some of those unconfident feeling snuck back into my psyche. I asked my husband to stand by in case I needed help to put a fire out, and also to take pictures of it all. I need the evidence of it not only to show you here, but for my own acknowledgement of future flambe attempts. The ending result was triumphant. There was no fire, although the flame did get larger than I had remembered. The bananas were sweet and kept their shape. The lightly spiced brown sugar and butter used to create the sauce paired perfectly with the vanilla ice-cream. We enjoyed some Bananas Foster, and when finish I packed some things for our trip to New Jersey. I will admit, my confidence was back in place and I hoped our future trip would be as exciting as making this dish.

IMG_0539Bananas Foster (serves 2 - 4)

*Note: if you are concerned about the flame from the rum you can always add less rum, but that will compromise your the amount of sauce you create with the bananas. You can also try not to ignite the pan, but were is the fun in that?!?

2 firm bananas, peeled and sliced into 1/2 inch slices

2 tbsp of butter

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground cardamom

1/4 cup dark rum

1 tsp vanilla extract

Vanilla ice-cream of choice

Matches, in case you are not using a gas stovetop

First, have I like to have the ice-cream scooped into the bowls and placed in the freezer until ready to pour the sauce over. It is best to keep the ice-cream cold, or the warm sauce and bananas will end up in a creamy puddle!

Next; in a bowl mix together your brown sugar, cinnamon, and cardamon - place it aside. Aslo place your vanilla in the same container you have you rum and set it aside as well. Place a large saute or frying pan over medium heat and once heated though add your butter and melt it.

Then, when butter is melted add your bananas. stir them to coat them in the butter. Once coated sprinkle you brown sugar over the top of it all. Keep stirring until the sugar is quite melted and bubbling. Carefully lift the pan away from the heat and pour in the rum and vanilla.

Finally, if using a gas stove raise your burner to high heat and carefully return the pan to the burner while gently tilting the pans lip toward the flame. The rum should ignite quickly. If using an electric burner raise the heat to high and place your pan gently over it. Carefully light your match and place it’s flame toward the pan to ignite the rum. After igniting the rum in either way the flambe will be high and your pan will sizzle away. The rum’s flame will subside once the alcohol is cooked off. When that happens you can remove the pan from the heat and quickly spoon the bananas and sauce over your chilled ice-cream. Serve it promptly and enjoy!

Calas

I noticed the other day that in some ways I have been feeling like I am in a bit of a rut lately. It is hard to explain. The days are short, and yet we are both super busy with our work, day to day life; yet everything has a level of lackadaisical to it. It is as though there have been a case of the “blahs” casted over me. I know some would attribute this to January or winter, and I was beginning to believe that might be true. That was until I was reading through at an Indian cookbook I received as a gift. There it was right in front of me. I was planning to go to India for the past six months and postponed those plans after our most recent voyage out of the states. Let me just say that it left us stressed, and exhausted. To some that may seem like all the more reason to go away again. Unfortunately, we knew we were just not mentally ready for a long voyage of that nature.

Cala batter resting and letting the years work it's magic.
Cala batter resting and letting the years work it's magic.

Then I realized that last year this time we were in New Orleans.  It was the first time I visited that beautiful city, and we enjoyed every bit of it. At that moment I put down the Indian cook book and started looking into all the foods we enjoyed while we were in New Orleans. There was the ever famous Beignets, Cheesy Grits, Praline Bacon, Stewed Okra, and a personal favorite: Calas! I’m sure you are wondering what this is. Calas are somewhat of a rice fritter. The history of the Cala dates back to plantation times, they were made by slaves and sold on the city streets on their day off. The money they earned from selling these was put towards buying themselves their freedom. As time passed the Calas were still made, but usually for more celebratory times. Today you can often find them on menus at restaurants from time to time.

IMG_0489
IMG_0489

In researching recipes about the Calas I found lots of differences. Some were like fried rice patty cakes, some were leavened with baking powder, and a few recipes used yeast. In making my own I opted for a yeast version. I imagined they would be light and airy in texture, and the result was just that. Light, airy, fluffy, with the tiniest bit of chew from the rice. I made the batter for the Calas early in the day and let the yeast work it’s magic. When we were through with dinner that night I heated up some oil and fried them off. While still very hot and warm I dusted them with powdered sugar. Biting into them I was super pleased. They were everything I thought they would be like. They were much fluffier than the ones I had when I was in New Orleans, and had the tiniest bit of subtle sweetness. They were a great ending to our meal, and a perfect pick me up from the blah mood I have been in. A trip to India may have been pushed back a bit, but Calas are a great pick me up in the meantime.

Fluffy Calas, get ready to indulge.
Fluffy Calas, get ready to indulge.

Calas (serves 6 or more depending on size)

**Note: I am sure any type of rice is possible to use for this recipe. By tradition they use a medium grained rice…Although, something like a short grain, sticky rice might not be appropriate. You want the rice suspended in the batter and not clumped up. I did find in my research that a parboiled or instant rice is strongly not suggested.  

2 1/4 tsp of active dry yeast

1/2 cup of warm water

2 cups of cooked and cooled rice (I used Basmati)

3 large eggs

1 tsp of vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups of flour (plus more if needed)

1/2 cup of light brown sugar

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp nutmeg

Peanut oil (at least a pint)

Powdered sugar

First, place the yeast in a large mixing bowl. Cover the yeast with the warm water and let it dissolve and start to foam.

Next, add the rice, eggs, and vanilla to the yeast and stir it well. Over the top of this add your flour, brown sugar, and sea salt. Stir it together well. It will seem gloopy and spongy, that is normal. You are looking that you can scoop the batter up with a spoon and scrape it off with another spoon smoothly.

Then, cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let it rest at room temperature (and away from any draft) for about 4 hours, or double in size. At this point check again that the batter is scoopable with two spoons. If you feel that the dough is too wet you can stir in a bit more flour…Try to do this no more that 2 tbsp at a time.

Finally, add the oil to a 4 quart pan and heat it to 350 degrees. (You can use a deep fryer if you have one.) When the oil is ready, drop the batter by the spoonful and fry until they are golden and flip them over until they are equally golden on the other side. (Be sure to keep an eye on your oil temperature as you do not want it to get too hot or it will burn your calas.) Remove from the oil and place on a paper towel lined plate to drain. Dust the calas with powdered sugar and serve while hot, and enjoy!

***Note: I fried off half the batter and placed the remainder batter in a sealed plastic container at least double the size of the batter. I stored the batter in the refrigerator and fried it off two days later. It did expand a bit more as it rested in the refrigerator, and it fried off just as well as it did before. Although I would not let the batter sit much longer than that, because the batter has a tendency to begin to have a sour dough taste to it.

Bruleed Nectarines

I know it has been a while since my last post. Life again has been busy and taken me in several different directions…all not in the way of this blog unfortunately. IMG_0633

Summer is slowly coming to a close. Out of the corner of my eye, on my walk home from work; I spotted an orange leaf on the ground! Yes I know the time is near, but I will take full advantage of the warm sunny days that remain. Basking in some rays and enjoying the fresh air are huge treats. I know in a couple months when us Pacific North Westerners are faced with mist and grey days we will be missing the sun. Although I love days like that, it makes me appreciate the sunshine and breezy days of summer.

The little prep needed to make these!

Holding on to late summer has made me rush to the markets to be sure I enjoy every last bit of what remains. Late berries, stone fruits, corn, summer squash…I have been cooking and we have been enjoying it all. With all of this going on, I have been experimenting with different ways to enjoy it all. Of all the possible recipes - Bruleed Nectarines has been most enjoyable and quite possibly could not be simpler! If you have ripe nectarines, sugar, and a broiler you are good to go! I could not think of anything that intensifies the flavor of these summer fruits and keeps their beautiful texture. As they warm up in the broiler, the sugar caramelizes, and the juicy interior of the fruit begins to ooze as you scoop into it. I am telling you, this is so good and a show stopper! If the nectarines are still looking perfect I might have to make this again and invite some friends over to enjoy it with us…Although, I could easily devour it all myself!

IMG_0636

Bruleed Nectarines (1/2 - 1 whole nectarine per person)

**Note: This recipe works well with peaches too, but I personally like to peel the peaches first as the skin is a lot tougher than that of a nectarine.

Nectarines, halved and pitted

sugar (I personally like turbinado but white sugar works well too)

First, preheat your broiler on high. I arrange my nectarines in either individual baking dishes they fit into, or I lay them on a gratin type baking dish.

Next, coat the cut portion of your fruit with an even layer of your sugar. be sure you get sugar in the crevice of the pit, but do not fill it up with the sugar. Place the your coated nectarines under the broiler keeping an eye on them. I find with ripe fruit in my oven it takes about 5 minutes. But keep and eye on it. You are looking for the sugar and the edges of the fruit to caramelize and be somewhat golden across the top of your fruit.

Finally, remove from the oven and serve. Be careful as the dishes you use will be very hot, but it best to eat and enjoy these right away. If you let them sit a while the sugar that you caramelized will start to disintegrate!

Lemon and Vanilla Bean Eclairs - A special dessert for Brian.

Every year Brian and I celebrate the anniversary of our first date. Over the years it has become a somewhat of a tradition that I try to make him a special treat, meal, or dessert; this year I contemplated over what that thing should be. When you are with someone as long as we have been (twenty two years) this never gets easier. I always want it to be new…or different than the item I made in the years past. Brian enjoying a dinner out recently.This year I was off my game. I will admit that from the start. I knew I wanted to make him a dessert. I systematically debated in my head what and how it should be. I tossed around ideas on flavor combos.  Thought of how I could play around with the texture of a few more traditional desserts. I even contemplated what and how these items will be eaten and served. My mind may never be at rest when it comes to food, but that is just me. Finally, to end the rambling consideration in my head I turned to Brian and I asked: “What do you really look for when it comes to a dessert? What favor do you hear and say, Yes That is what I want to eat!!!” He responded with he usual: dark chocolate, creaminess, and I like things tart too! There it was, he said it and it struck a cord: creamy and tart.

I instantly envisioned an eclair cut length wise, with a layer of lemony tartness and topped with another layer of thick vanilla bean pastry cream. I would brush the tops of them with a light lemon sugar glaze. But these eclairs would be made miniature. Any dessert you can make is more fun and exciting to eat when it is made in miniature. It makes for more interaction and conversation to take place too.

Miniture Lemon and Vanilla Bean Eclairs, ready to be enjoyed.So the other day when I came home from work I whipped up some mini eclairs, about 4 dozen to be exact. While the pate choux (eclair batter) baked I stood over the stove and stirred my lemon curd and pastry cream, I patiently waited for them to thicken, before I strained and chilled them both. I had them both in the refrigerator chilling when Brian came home and saw the eclair shells on the dinning table. He asked what they were, and I could tell he was trying to resist popping one in his mouth. When I explained it was a surprise for after dinner he grinned. We sat and ate our dinner and cleaned up the kitchen.  When we were done we sat down with cups of tea and I started to fill the little eclairs and glaze them. He observed and asked why the special treat? As always I told him as many years we have been together - you and we deserve a special treat. And we feasted! Popping the little eclairs in our mouths in between sips of tea. We chatted about our day, our jobs, our dogs, and the planning of a future vacation. These little eclairs were zesty with tartness, and the vanilla bean pastry cream mellowed it out just a tad. Having made these in miniature it was a perfect balance of flavor and texture because you got a little bit of everything about this dessert in each bite.

As for twenty two years with Brian? It has been an adventure so far. We have lived together and separately in four different states - in two big cities - lived in separate states for months at a time - numerous apartments - owned a home - owned and ran two businesses - traveled abroad - taken road trips - and yes we are still together! We have taken many roads to get where we are, but that suits us just fine. Twenty two years is a long time, time well spent. We have just done it thus far with especially tasty food and desserts to accompany it all. Personally I think the layers of flavors in this dessert are much like the life we have experiences thus far. They are different but blend well for a delicious outcome.

Latte (our Lab) was admiring the eclairs, and wanted to they one with us.Zesty Lemon and Vanilla Bean Eclairs (yields 3 - 4 dozen)

***NOTE - the recipe for the Pate Choux make 3 - 4 dozen. The lemon curd and the pastry cream make way more then is needed in this recipe. You can cut those recipes in half if you like, but I like to do the full amount and store the remainder in my refrigerator and find other uses for them in the next couple of days. I always store the extra in air tight sealed containers.

Pate Choux (Eclair Dough)

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 cup of water

1 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/4 cup flour

4 eggs, plus one egg white

First, bring butter, sugar, salt, and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from the heat. Using a spoon or spatula, quickly stir in flour. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture pulls away from sides and a film forms on bottom of pan, about 3 minutes. It will make a sizzling noise, that is expected. But you are looking for the mixture to be all hydrated and in the form of ball or blob of dough.

Next, transfer the dough to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until slightly cooled, about 2 minutes or until you no longer see steam rising from the bowl and the bowl itself is cool to the touch. Raise speed to medium; add your whole eggs, 1 at a time, until a soft peak forms when batter is touched with your finger. If peak does not form, lightly beat remaining egg white, and mix it into batter a little at a time until it does.

Finally, have a pastry bag fitted with a tip no bigger than 1/2 in in diameter.  Have three baking sheets lined with parchment paper and preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Fill the bag with the batter and pipe batter in strait lines no bigger than 2 - 2 1/2 inches long. Space them at least 2 inches apart. Place them in the oven and bake roughly 20 - 25 minutes depending on your oven. Your pate choux should have expanded and at least doubled or more in hight. Once it is golden brown and feels crisp it is ready to be pulled form the oven and cooled.

Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream (Makes about 1 quart)

2 1/4 cup whole milk

6 egg yolks

2/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup corn starch

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

First, In medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup milk, egg yolks, 1/3 cup sugar, and cornstarch.

Next, in a 4 quart pot place the remaining 1 3/4 cups milk along with the scraped seeds from vanilla bean; as well as the pod. Sprinkle remaining 1/3 cup sugar over, letting sugar sink undisturbed to bottom. Place the pan over moderate heat and bring to simmer without stirring.

Then, once the milk and vanilla bean mixture is at a simmer remove from the burner. Temper some of the hot milk mixture gradually into your yolk mixture - whisking it. Combine it all to your hot milk in the pot, and place over moderate heat. Cook it; whisking or stirring it (always to be sure you are touching the bottom of the pot with your whisk or spoon) constantly, until pastry cream simmers and thickens, about 1 minute.

Finally, remove you pot from heat, and strain into a bowl though a fine mesh strainer to remove any lumps. Discard vanilla pod, and whisk cream until smooth. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of you pastry cream and refrigerate until chilled completely cold, about 4 hours. (Pastry cream can be made ahead and refrigerated, wrapped well with plastic wrap on surface, up to 5 days.)

Lemon Curd (about 1 quart)

1 1/4 fresh lemon juice

12 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

pinch of salt

8 oz unsalted butter, cold and cut up into 1 inch pieces

zest of 3 lemons

2 tbsp heavy cream

First, in a saute pan place your egg yolks and sugar and wis together. Add in the lemon juice and salt and whisk again. Place the butter in the pan and place the pan over medium low heat.

Next, while constantly stirring your mixture with a silicone spatula you will notice your butter begin to melt and mix into your lemon curd. It should begin to thicken not long after the butter melts.

Then, once your mixture is thick and coats the back of your spatula it is done cooking. It should be quite thick and no longer liquid like. Remove the pan from the heat pour the mixture and though a fine mesh strainer and into a bowl. Stir in the lemon zest and the heavy cream.

Finally, place plastic wrap directly over the curd and refrigerate until completely chilled (about 2 hours). Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Lemon Glaze

1 1/2 cup powder sugar

1/4 - 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

zest of 1 lemon

In a bowl place your powdered sugar, and with a fork stir in a little bit of lemon juice at a time. It will start out really thick and as you add more lemon juice it will losses up.

You are looking for the glaze to be thick enough that you can spread it on the eclair without dripping off. If you feel it is too thick and you used all the lemon juice you can sub in a teaspoon of water at a time until you reach your desired consistency.

Once the desired consistency is reached you can stir in the lemon zest. It is best to use this mixture immediately as it thickens as it sits.

Eclair Assembly

1. With a sharp knife, slice your eclair shells (Pate Choux) in half length wise, be sure you still have a flat bottom on one half.

2. Fill some of your lemon curd and your pastry cream in separate pastry bags and set aside.

3. Line your bottom half of your eclair shells on a tray. With your lemon curd, pipe a bit of curd to fill the bottom half.

4. Repeat this with your pastry cream, piping it over the top of the lemon curd. You are looking for both the curd and the pastry cream to be in two even layers.

5. Spread the tops of each eclair shell with the lemon glaze and rest the tops over the filled bottom halves. Chill until ready to eat, and best is made no longer than 6 - 4 hours before serving…they will get soggy the longer they sit prepared. Best to keep chilled until ready to eat!

Buttermilk Pie with Berries

I have to admit something. Up until I was in my early twenties, I believed that I disliked pie! Yes; in all truthfulness, I never came across a piece that I truly desired. Pies were also never something that commonly graced our dessert tables. If memory serves me right, there were two times my mother attempted to make a pie from scratch while I was growing up. She made a lemon meringue pie, and an apple pie. My mother is a fantastic cook, anyone who knows her will tell you that; but a baker she is not. I hope she is not offended by my writing this, but I have memories of her making the pies and none of me eating or tasting them. The Martha Stewart "Pies & Tarts" book I adore. It is out of print but you can still find old ones online.

To be honest though, the majority of pies I had encountered up until that point were purchased from a store, or baked fresh from a freezer section of your local supermarket. They always appeared to have gloopy fillings and the crust was always a bit on the soggy side. It wasn’t until a neighbor I had when I was first living on my own made a sweet potato pie that she insisted I come over and try. To be polite I accepted, and with in the first couple of bites I was weak in the knees. It was so well balanced because it was not too sweet, and the crust was tender. She thought me how to make the pie, and from then on I was on a pie mission. It wasn’t much longer after my pie euphoria that I came across a book from Martha Stewart appropriately entitled “Pies & Tarts” and purchased it. I have used it over and over again through the years. It thought me a ton and opened my eyes to the pie world. In many ways has become like a pie bible for me.

Pouring the Buttermilk Filling into the pie crust.

The other day we were going to a BBQ and I thought to myself: ‘What better to bring then a pie?” I walked over to my book shelves and pulled out my trusty Martha Stewart book. I flipped though the pages when I came across one of the recipes I alway wished I had tried but never got around to it- Buttermilk Pie. You make your pie dough as usual, whisk together a buttermilk custard, pour it into the shell and bake it. Sounds simple and straight forward. I imagined the buttermilk custard to have a sweet and lemony tang, and since berries are in great abundance right now I felt it was perfect to top the pie with some supper ripe ones.

The Buttermilk Pies cooling out of the oven. (Okay I admit it, I made two pies. One for the BBQ and one for us!)

So the evening before the BBQ I rolled out the pie dough, and chilled it until it was set. I made a nice border out of the crust with a circle cutter because I cannot sit still in the kitchen and I thought that with the berry filling it would somewhat look like an blossom when it was all done. I whisked the buttermilk filling together, poured it into the crust, and baked it off. It smelled mellowly sweet and buttery. I let it chill overnight and in the morning I went to the market to pick up the berries. I am sure that any berries would be great with this; but I asked the vendor what is at it’s peek and they pointed me in the direction blackberries, blueberries, and golden raspberries. After washing and drying the berries I piled them onto the center of the buttermilk pie. The pie looked beautiful and it got a tone of compliments. I will admit that it tasted wonderfully. The ripely sweet berries played nicely with the lemon tang of the buttermilk custard. It was lightly rich in flavor and in a whole they were a match made in heaven. I cannot believe I have not tried this pie until now. I really enjoy a good pie!

Buttermilk Pie with Fresh Seasonal Berries

Buttermilk Pie with Berries (makes one 8-9 inch pie)

1 recipe of Pate Brisee

1 1/4 cups sugar

3 tbsp flour

4 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup melted butter, and slightly cooled

1 cup buttermilk

zest of 1 lemon

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

4-6 pints of berries, depending on their size

First, roll out your pate brisee to about 1/2 - 1/4 inch thick in a circumference large enough to fit your pie pan. Gently lift your dough and lay it into your pan. With a sharp knife trim the edges overhanging. You can gently crimp the urging with your fingers. Or you can use a 1-2 inch circle cutter to cut out the remainder of the dough, pressing each one into the crust, while gently letting them overlap. Place the prepped pie crust into the refrigerator or freezer until it is firm and set (at least 1 hour).

Next, preheat your oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl combine the sugar and flour. add in the eggs and whisk it all together. To this add in the melted butter, buttermilk, lemon juice, zest, vanilla, and nutmeg. Whisk it all together to combine it evenly.

Then, place your prepped pie plate on a baking sheet. Pour the prepared filling into the crust, and place it in the center of the oven. Bake it for about 30 - 45 minutes. You are looking for the filling to be slightly golden and set when giggled. Remove from the oven and cool. can be refrigerated for a day until serving.

Meanwhile, wash your berries gently. Lay them out on a kitchen towel to it dry until ready.

Finally, when ready pile the berries into the center of the baked pie. Let them fall naturally about to fill your pie. Leave room temperature for at least an hour before serving. Can be held out for a few hours, but refrigerate if there are leftovers. But do not hold for longer than three days, or the berries will lose their luster.

 

Fruity Pebble Cake Fascination

A couple of moths ago a coworker showed me a cake she was thinking of making for her son’s birthday. It was a colorfully speckled cake similar to that of a confetti cake but the intriguing thing about this cake was that the “confetti” was actually Fruity Pebbles! it was three layers of a vanilla fruity confetti cake with vanilla buttercream enrobing it all together. The sides of the cake were coated with more Fruity Pebbles adorning the cake like sprinkles. The cake was cute, looked like it oozed fun, even though you could tell it was sugary - but it was the kind of sugary goodness you know children dream about. I walked her through the recipe and she was excited to make it. Fruity Pebble Cake cake getting adorned with sugary cereal goodness.

Unfortunately, her son came down with a bad cold before his birthday and she never ended up making the cake. Shortly afterward, while walking the grocery store, I noticed I was on the cereal isle. Out of curiosity I looked for Fruity Pebbles, but there were none! Let me admit that my curiosity was piqued because I was never allowed to have sugary cereals growing up. I started to wonder: What do Fruity Pebbled taste like? Then a few weeks later I was in Rite Aid to get allergy meds when I noticed they had a cereal isle. I walked down the isle and there it was! Boxes of Fruity Pebbles, they do exist!!! I purchased the box and hurried home. I couldn’t wait! I was going to make this cake and bring it in as a surprise for the staff.

A quick look at the "fruity confetti"  cake layers.

Now those of you who know me I am sure are wondering: Why was I so excited about this cake and buying this cereal? I mean it is extremely colorful in an artificial way, the so called “fruity” flavoring was fruity in a nondescript fruit way, and it is more sugar in one intake for a breakfast item then I care to think about. But, I felt there was something extremely reminiscent of reliving childhood when I saw this cake. This cake looked like fun. It reminded me of running around playing musical chairs, wearing fun paper hats, and getting goodie bags with all of your friends - you know the average stuff we use to do when we were 7 years old. I needed to be a kid again, at least just for this one time.

I will admit to snacking on a few Fruity Pebbles as I placed finishing touches on the cake.

So I spent one evening baking the cake, and then in the next evening decorating it. It was fun I will admit. It was quite easy too. I boxed up the finished cake and headed into work with it in the morning. Three separate people stopped me on the walk to work at 5:30 AM to ask about the cake. Once I got to work I placed the cake on my co-workers station, by the time everyone else rolled in they were all asking about the cake. It’s funny really, it is like they all turned in to children again with cake and sugar their mind. Once they heard it was made with cereal they were even more fascinated. Once the co-work who started this Fruity Pebble Cake Fascination got in she started to laugh! We all took pictures and feasted on sugary cereal cakey goodness with our tea or coffee. It may not be something I will want to eat again; although, it was fun to experience the enthusiasm and giddiness over this cake with my coworkers. Sometimes you just need to feel like a kid again.

My first and last slice of Fruity Pebble Cake! It was fun to be a kid for a moment.

Fruity Pebble Confeti Cake (makes one 8 inch round, three layer cake)

***This recipe is from the blog Butter Lust. You can link directly to the blog from here! The following directions are from that recipe. Although, I do not own three 8 inch pans, so I baked it on 8 inch pan for about an hour at 325 degrees. Then sliced it into three layers for icing.

CAKE

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 1/4 cups sugar

6 large egg whites, at room temperature

2 tablespoons clear imitation vanilla

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 3/4 cups cake flour (see headnote)

3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups whole milk, at room temperature

3 cups Fruity Pebbles cereal

BUTTERCREAM

2 cups (4 sticks) butter, at room temperature

1 tablespoon clear imitation vanilla

3 tablespoons milk or cream

4 cups powdered sugar

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease and line 3 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper. In the bowl of a standing mixer, whip together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the egg whites one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Add the oil and vanilla and mix until well combined.

Next; in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. With your mixer on low, add the dry ingredients in thirds, alternating with the milk (you should start and end with the dry ingredients). Mix until batter is just combined and smooth - don't over mix.

Then, fold in the Fruity Pebbles cereal then divide the batter between the three greased cake pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then turn out into a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting. (I like to chill the cake overnight and ice the following day.)

The next day, in the bowl of a stand mixer, whip butter on medium-high for about 1 minute. Add the powdered sugar, mix on low until incorporated, then turn the mixer up to high and beat for about 2 minutes. Add the milk and vanilla, mix on low again until incorporated, then turn mixer to high and beat for 4-5 minutes or until frosting is very fluffy.

Once the icing is made, If desired, level your cakes to remove domed tops and create a more even, professional-looking cake. Place one layer of cake on a cardboard round or flat serving surface and top with about 1/2 cup of buttercream. Top with another layer off cake then add another layer of frosting. Top off with the last layer of cake.

After, once all your layers are stacked, frost the cake with a very thin crumb coat layer of icing (this will help achieve a smooth finish) and refrigerate until icing is set (about 10 minutes).

Finally, use the remaining icing to frost the outside of the cake. To coat the sides with Fruity Pebbles, take a handful of cereal and gently press into the side of the cake. Repeat until completely covered. Note that this is a messy process, but the end result sure is pretty!