Category Archives: dessert

Plum pie with leaf lard crust

The other day, my friend brought over a big bag of plums from her tree. I didn’t have time to make jam, and figured that we wouldn’t be able to eat them all fresh before they went bad (even though they were delicious!), so I decided to make a plum pie. It’s actually pretty rare that I make a classic American-style pie, with the top dough and everything. Something about my French mom drilling into my head how much heavier 2 pie crusts are than one. But, I had some pork leaf lard in my fridge that I purchased at the farmer’s market with the intention of making pie dough and wanted to give it a try.
To some, lard in dessert may sound gross. But seriously, give it a try. There’s a reason for the foodie movement behind leaf lard pie dough. 

At the recommendation from a chef friend of mine, I used this recipe from Food and Wine. She suggested I decrease the fat a smidge and add a bit of sugar. So I altered the recipe a teensy bit and used 1/4 cup less butter, and added about a tablespoon of sugar. The result was a flaky and delicious pie crust. I’ll definitely use this recipe again when I make American-style pies. I will say, I don’t think that using lard lends itself well to French tarts. Those are better when made with 100% butter. The lard makes the crust significantly flakier, which is great for American pie, and not so great with tarts. One of these days, I want to try making Chinese egg custard tartlets using an even higher percentage of leaf lard in the crust. Since making this pie, I’ve decided the lard must be the secret to the deliciously flaky and fatty crust in those.

As far as what went into the pie filling itself- some combination of plums, sugar, tapioca and cinnamon. These plums were very juicy, so I had to use quite a bit of tapioca to absorb the juices and make sure the pie didn’t turn into a runny mess. I thought I had used enough sugar, but it ended up being pretty tart and I wished I’d used more. I never really follow a recipe when making American-style pies. I just go with what the particular fruit I’m using needs. Apparently, I should probably add more sugar than I think I need, especially when using fruit with tart skin like plums. I’m always learning!

The making of a rainbow cake

It’s been about 3 weeks since little man’s 1st birthday party, so I figure it’s high time I write a post about the rainbow birthday cake I made for it. It was quite an endeavor and, in my opinion, deserves it’s own post, so here goes!
I originally got the idea from this pin on pinterest. I’m pretty sure the pin, though, links to the recipe on Martha Stewart, but the original recipe comes from Whisk Kid. I wont copy the recipe here, since you can just get it from Whisk Kid, but I’ll take you through the process with pictures.
First, I made the batter. Separated it into 6 bowls and mixed food coloring in. I used Wilton gel food coloring that I bought in a set at Jo-Anns. Using the gel is essential because it’s more concentrated than the food coloring drops you can buy at the grocery store.
I was lucky enough to borrow 5 9-inch cake pans from my awesome friend. That allowed me to only have to bake the 6 layers in two batches. It was a huge time saver. Here are the 5 cake pans, lined with parchment paper and ready to go.
All the colors of the rainbow, minus purple, waiting to be baked. 
5 of the 6 cakes just after coming out of the oven. Cooling a bit before going onto cooling racks.
All of the colors of the rainbow. Once they had cooled completely, I wrapped each layer in plastic wrap, stacked them up and then wrapped the whole thing in plastic wrap. I made the cakes on Thursday night and didn’t want to ice it until Friday, since the party was on Saturday. I kept the wrapped up cake layers in the fridge until I was ready to ice. 
The next day my friend and her daughter came over to play with little man while I made the frosting and frosted the cake. I made Whisk Kid’s Swiss Meringue recipe, which, by the way, uses a TON of butter. But you have to consider that this is a 6 layer cake. It takes a lot of frosting to go between each layer. This picture is from partway through the icing process.

Party day!
Friends suggested I go into the rainbow-cake-making business next June for SF Pride. Maybe by then I’ll be up for making another rainbow cake.   

Making Fromage Blanc

I’m never really sure how to describe fromage blanc to my American friends. Literally, it’s “white cheese,” but that’s not quite the full picture. The consistency is similar to yogurt, although fromage blanc is creamier. It’s slightly less tart than most yogurt and thicker. There’s a subtle taste of cheese, but I don’t really consider it a soft cheese, like I would goat cheese. You usually serve fromage blanc with fruit for dessert (kind of like yogurt…only not quite. Again, tough to describe it). 
Anyway, it’s delicious. That’s the take home message. 
Since you can’t find it here in the US, I’ve taken to making my own (something else to DIY…yipee!). Unlike making your own yogurt, you can’t use fromage blanc from your previous batch to inoculate your next batch. You have to use a new packet of fromage blanc starter cultures each time you make it. But, one packet of fromage blanc cultures inoculates 1 gallon of milk. You lose some from straining, but you still get a lot of fromage blanc out of it. 
I get my cultures for all my cheesy creations from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. Someday maybe I’ll be lucky enough to take a workshop from “Ricki the Cheese Queen,” but New England is just a bit too far from California to jaunt over to learn how to make cheese. Bummer. 
So, to make fromage blanc, you need a packet of fromage blanc starter culture and a gallon of milk (whole milk or 2% is good. You can use non-fat, but it wont be as good). You’ll also need a big pot with a cover, a cheese thermometer, a ladle, a colander, a large bowl and butter muslin
Once you’ve assembled your equipment and ingredients, make sure everything is very clean. This is important anytime you’re making cultured or fermented foods. 
Next, pour the entire gallon of milk into the pot. 

Heat it over low-medium heat to 86 degrees (in the picture, the thermometer had already cooled back down…don’t refer to the picture. 86 degrees is what you want). 

Mix in your fromage blanc starter culture.

Cover the pot, set it aside, and wait 12 hours. I always get this started at night before heading to bed.

The next morning, the fromage blanc will look like this. The milk has thickened up and separated from the sides of the pot.

This kind of colander is perfect for straining fromage blanc because it fits right inside my large bowl, which supports the bottom of the butter muslin over a large surface area and facilitates drainage.

Put the colander in your bowl.

Cover the bowl with butter muslin.

Ladle the cultured milk into the butter muslin.

This is halfway through ladling. A lot of the whey has mixed back into the curds, but that’s okay. It will drain out soon enough.

Now put the bowl in the refrigerator. Periodically remove it to drain out the whey at the bottom of the bowl. Early on, you need to do this every few minutes. After 15 or so minutes, you’ll be able to only check on it every 30 minutes or so. It will need to drain for 3-6 hours (depending on the kind of milk you used. I find that less fat= faster drainage, because there are less curds).

You’re almost done! I used 2% milk for this batch and it ended up draining a bit too much, which resulted in a not-smooth-enough-for-my-french-blood fromage blanc. I just threw it into my mixer with the whisk attachment. I whipped it on medium speed and added a bit of milk to help smooth it out.

Here is the finished fromage blanc! Serve with whatever fruit suits your fancy.

Note: This post brought to you by Bastille Day. Because what Bastille Day would be complete without a tasty French dessert like fromage blanc?

Happy Bastille Day!!

Pierre Herme- beyond the macaron

Ahh Pierre Herme. There is no doubt that he is king of the macaron as I’ve already blogged about once during this trip. I never really venture away from macarons when I go to Herme, because my time in Paris is always so limited (as are funds dedicated to luxury pastries) and I know they will never disappoint me.

My parents, though, rarely go for macarons and instead prefer his “verrines.” These are small glasses filled with different layers of gelatins, creams and compotes. So, for Trevor’s last night here, they treated us to verrines from Pierre Herme. Oh my am I in trouble.

Herme is famous for combining unusual flavors that actually work together. In this verrine, he combined citrus, strawberry and wasabi. Unusual, right? Wasabi in a dessert was not something I had tried before. I’ve seen it used in other savory dishes (besides sushi), but never in a sweet. Well, not surprisingly given Herme’s reputation, it worked. The biggest surprise about the wasabi was that there was no heat. Just essence. You knew immediately upon tasting that it was there, but you didn’t get a rush of wasabi heat in your nose. I was seriously impressed.

So, for a rundown of each layer, here is what we decided as we savored our verrines…

The bottom layer was some sort of citrus gelatin. It was very tart and refreshing.
The next layer was a strawberry compote. The sweetness worked to lessen the tartness of the citrus. 

The following layer was a wasabi cream. Like I said above, no heat, just essence. Very interesting and very delicious. 

On top were miniature “pates de fruits” (soft strawberry candy) and wasabi-coated cookies, with a glazed strawberry on the top. 

Pierre Herme has been called the “Picasso of pastry” and once again he has created art for both the eyes and palate.

The perfect meal: Confit de Canard and Macarons

We’re still in Paris. Trevor is here for about one more week, and I have 2 more weeks. While we’re here, there are a couple things that we always have to eat. There are the usual suspects- cheese, bread, pastries…and then there are a few lesser known delicacies like Confit de Canard and macarons.

Confit de Canard is much more delicious than it sounds when you describe it in English. Basically, it’s duck legs, preserved in rendered duck fat, which you then pan fry and serve with potatoes sauteed in some of the extra rendered duck fat. I promise, it’s totally, amazingly, delicious.

Macarons are probably easier for everyone to get excited about. They are the fanciest oreo you’ve ever tasted. The cookies are a kind of almond-based meringue and they are filled with something creamy and delicious. They come in delicate flavors like fresh mint, salted caramel, rose, jasmine, rose vanilla, passion fruit…all of the possible colors and flavors make my head spin!  I have a bit of an obsession them, as I’ve already written about eating them here, here and here; and I’ve written about making them here and here. Unfortunately, the macarons you can find in even the best bakeries in the US do not compare to those you can get here, so we get our fill when we come to Paris.

Last night, we decided to live it up and have them both.  I documented the entire meal for your viewing pleasure.

Confit de Canard with Sauteed Potatoes.
Macarons from Pierre Herme (arguably the best in Paris)
Fresh mint- I love how much these taste like real mint
Chocolate Caramel- good, but not my favorite. I prefer the more delicate flavors
Rose Vanilla- The flavor was very good and delicate. But the filling was a little too firm for my preference.
Jasmine- Very subtle flavor. Almost too subtle, but still one that I will get again.
Salted Caramel- Hands down, one of my favorites. The flavor of the caramel is so pronounced, while the filling is soft and delicate. Amazing.
Rose- Also one of my very favorites. I never imagined a cookie that tastes like a flower would be so wonderful. This one is perfection.
Aaaaand, gone. If you’re wondering why the knife is there, it’s because Trevor and I always buy 6 different macarons and cut them in half. That way we get to try a good variety of flavors.

Creme Caramel

Creme Caramel is one of the very popular desserts that you might make for a family night treat in France. Some people liken it to flan, but I take issue with comparing it to flan because most people hate flan. Creme Caramel is awesome. In order to educate myself of the differences between the two, I did a little googling and found out that flan typically is made with lots of sugar (a cup in most recipes), condensed milk, evaporated milk and/or heavy cream, vanilla extract and eggs. Creme Caramel has much less sugar, real whole milk, a vanilla bean or vanilla sugar and eggs. So eggs are the common denominator. They really are different, though. So even if you hate flan, you must give creme caramel a chance.

Creme Caramel: (Printable recipe here)

Ingredients:

For the caramel:
3 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp water

For the creme:
2 cups whole milk
1 pinch of salt
4 Tbsp sugar
1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla sugar
4 eggs

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. To make the caramel, combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan. Heat on medium-high heat. Resist the urge to stir right away. Once the sugar starts to become golden, stir in any clumps of sugar that remain. They should melt in the caramel. Once all of the sugar is caramelized, remove from heat and pour into 4 ramekins. (Note, in the picture I thought I might be able to get 6 creme caramels out of my recipe. I was wrong…just go with 4).


2. To make the creme, combine the milk, salt and sugar in a medium pot. Heat until the milk just starts boiling.


3. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs.

4. Once the milk starts to boil, pour a small amount of hot milk into the eggs making sure you never stop whisking. If you do, you run the risk of cooking the eggs and ruining the smooth consistency of your creme. This is probably the hardest part of making creme caramel (and it’s not that hard, promise). Slowly add more and more hot milk, continuing to whisk the whole time.

5. Strain the mixture with a sieve and pour it into the ramekins. Place the ramekins in a bain marie (you can use any sort of cake pan filled partway up with cool water). Bake for 30-40 minutes. You know they are done when the centers just quiver a tiny bit. Allow to cool completely before serving.


Lemon Curd and Scones

Here is our dwarf Meyer Lemon tree. It is currently weighed down with delicious Meyer lemons. It’s a small tree, though, so “weighed down” for this little guy probably equals about 30 lemons. The thing is, this isn’t our only lemon tree. When we bought our house last year, there was a big Eureka Lemon tree in the back yard. Now THAT tree is a big producer.

In the fall, Trevor pruned it because there were branches touching our roof. He pruned it quite heavily, but there were still plenty of lemons left on it. We couldn’t let all those great lemons go to waste, so we picked them off of the pruned branches. When all was said and done, we had 70 pounds of lemons. What did we do? Make limoncello, of course! Here is a funny picture for you: It’s 10:30 am. Quentin is 10 weeks old, and I’m pushing him in the stroller. We stroll into BevMo in search of Everclear to make limoncello. This BevMo is new to me, so I have to ask where the Everclear is. With my 10 week old. Seeing as I have 70 pounds of lemons, I’m forced to make plenty of limoncello, so I buy 4 bottles of Everclear and a handle of Vodka. With my 10 week old. I swear I’m a fit mother.

Anyway, tangent over. This time when I went out to the backyard and noticed the Eureka lemon tree heavy with lemons, I decided to make lemon curd. You know, for a more “proper” use of my lemons. And what lemon curd would be complete with scones and tea (only on this occasion we actually had espresso…Her Majesty the Queen would surely disapprove).

Trevor and my good friend C has close family ties to the UK and his mother and aunt were kind enough to share their lemon curd recipes with me. I checked with him to make sure it would be okay to share the recipe here and he gave me the go ahead. So here it is!

Lemon Curd:

Ingredients:
4 large lemons
5 large eggs
1/4 lb butter
1 lb sugar


Directions:
1. Wash and dry lemons. Grate the rind and squeeze the juice of all 4 lemons.
2. Beat the eggs in a medium saucepan.
3. Add the rind, lemon juice, butter and sugar to the eggs.
4. Stir over low/medium heat until all ingredients are combined.
5. Continue stirring until the mixture thickens. Do NOT allow to boil. This may take 10+ minutes.
6. Once thickened, pour the lemon curd into warm jars and cover the top of each with a circle of wax paper.
7. Seal tightly and refrigerate. Keep for 1 week in the refrigerator or 2 months in the freezer.

For a printable recipe, click here.


I used some butter I made a little while back for both the curd and the scones. Lucky for us, there was some left that we got to enjoy on the scones.

Unfortunately, I used a different recipe than I normally do for the scones and they weren’t quite up to par in my book. So I’ll have to share my usually recipe another day. I’m sure the problem was that there wasn’t enough butter in the scones. A mistake I will not soon repeat.