Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Filbert Gateau

Can I just say right now that I made this cake without a food processor. I'll give you a minute to let that sink in. This month's Daring Bakers Challenge was completely nut based and asked you to roast, skin and ground hazelnuts, make a praline paste with more baking and grounding followed by more butter cream frosting and a chocolate ganache to finish. And it was utterly delicious. Due to some heavy time constraints I had to cut a lot of corners on this cake and in the end I made it in one night starting at 8:30pm and refrigerating the cake sans butter cream decoration at about 1am. So I guess you could say that this method was still pretty intense- some might say it was nutty! Har har...

The first thing I decided was to buy ground almonds. There was no way I was going to successfully blanch, roast, de-skin, hull ect... those hazelnuts to then try to chop them by hand. NO way siree. So ground almonds it was. Next I figured I could save some time by buying praline paste and I was lucky enough to find a tube at whole foods (although it did set me back by £5.99....suggestions for what to do with the rest?). Finally, I chose not to make the infused syrup because this cake was reminding me of the Opera Cake challenge and I'm pretty sure that it was the way to sweet syrup which ultimately killed my cake. This cake also reminded me of that celebrated Viennese cake the Sachertorte; which might just be my favorite cake, making this Filbert Gateau a close contender.

Unfortunately I didn't really take any pictures of the process because I was trying to make it as quickly as possible- but a lot of the steps are exactly the same at previous challenges. The only happening of note was discovering that after all these months, I already had a cooling rack! So I was feeling pretty darn professional while icing the cake- and thank god I did have it because I was able to recycle so much of the fallen chocolate ganache.

Now doesn't that cake look like some monster vanilla oreo? It's just bursting with butter cream frosting! But I'm not letting anyone twist this cake to lick the frosting out.

And finally- the butter cream decorations were done in my office using a ziploc bag. I had never really done any cake decorating so I think I managed pretty well. But I will admit that I wasn't aiming for a flower centerpiece- that just sort of evolved on its own. But I guess it did work out for the best as we got the Birthday Girl an orchid!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Dark Knight

I was so ready to write a movie related post last week and I'm glad I didn't because something totally huge happened on Thursday. I went with my work colleague Colin and some of his friends to see the Dark Knight in my local theatre (which is actually the ornate, red one in "Notting Hill") and waiting in line to buy some beers and popcorn is Claire Danes. HELL YEAH. After over a YEAR of trying, I have FINALLY had a celebrity encounter!!! I think this means I can officially move back to the States. So the first thing I do is get freakishly close to Colin's friend to whisper to her that "omg Claire Danes is behind me"- and she tells her boyfriend who's all like: NO it's not- blah blah blah. Then two girls walk up to Claire Danes and ask to take their picture with her and I'm all: *giant grin across my face signifying "I told you so"*. So we get into the theatre and her posse sits right next to us and I'm 2 seats away from Claire Danes. And her French boyfriend has to walk over me to get to his girlfriend, Claire Danes. And then the movie starts and I can't pay attention because whenever batman cracks a joke I'm all: "omg Claire Danes is laughing". Also I'm pretty sure that the woman sitting behind me and the Claire Danes posse was eating a bag of Styrofoam chips. So all in all I really don't know what I thought of the new batman flick although my initial reaction has been: Claire Danes frequents Notting Hill.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

My Absolute Favorite Salad EVER

In honor of my love of the South of France, I bring you my Absolute Favorite Salad EVER. Growing up in the Cote D'Azur meant that we were always surrounded by great produce: fish fresh from the Mediterranean sea, figs plucked from the neighbor's tree, massive amounts of basil from our garden, but most importantly, the juiciest tomatoes you could imagine bought from a guy's driveway stall. We called him Mr. Tomate.

We hardly ever drove by Mr. Tomate's house without buying his tomatoes and this meant that in the summer we probably ate our weight in Tomato and Mozzarella salad, but once we moved back to the states (more specifically MICHIGAN), where you can't find such tomatoes, we had to find an alternative. In the States I really only eat grape or cherry tomatoes since these are the closest approximation to the sweetness of those from Mr. Tomate's stall. Although I still use Mozzarella from time to time, the good stuff can be expensive so I go for Feta. And to round it out we add an avocado and a piece of toasted whole wheat bread. I often have this for dinner or bring it to the office for lunch since it will improve with a couple hours in the fridge. It just doesn't get more delicious and healthy than this!

But first- for those who don't know how to effectively cut open an avocado here's how I do it:

Simply cut around the pit from top to bottom. Twist it open. The pit will be lodged in one side, so the best way to get it out is to whack a knife into it's center, twist the pit and pull it out. To get the pit off of the knife, I usually whack the knife onto the edge of the garbage, dislodging the pit into the garbage can. Now you can scoop out the flesh with a spoon or add some salad dressing and enjoy!

My Favorite Salad EVER

  • 1 Barquette of Cherry or Grape tomatoes
  • 1 Avocado
  • Feta or Mozzarella
  • 1 piece of toasted whole wheat bread
  • Sea salt and ground pepper
  • Balsamic Glaze
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Olive Oil

To begin just cut all your tomatoes in half and throw them in a large serving dish.

Add in your avocado, cheese and torn up piece of toast. Add in the salt and pepper to taste.

For the dressing I start with the glaze and just squeeze in enough to go around the bowl twice, quickly. Next I add a splash of the Balsamic Vinegar (as the glaze is too sweet on its own). Finish it off with about 2 glugs of olive oil. Remember- whatever you do, be careful with your glugs and bottle squeezes! It's so easy to ruin a salad with too much dressing.

And if you can believe it- this salad tastes even better outdoors.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Nice is so nice!

Har har. I know... But it was really wonderful going back to the south of France last weekend. I always say I grew up in France, which is true, but I only spent 5 years living in the South between La Cadiere D'Azur and Bandol. Going back last weekend made me realize just how much I've missed it and how attached I still feel to that place. If only for the amazing array of colors which don't seem to exist anywhere else. I even miss those chirpy cigales.

And please ignore the zombie like color of the hands- we were under a blue tarp...

Where else can you have two scoops of Lavender and Miel de Pignons ice cream?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


with tea, cheerios, coffee and lots and lots of water.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Spawn of Satan

I had a weekend of failures. After being completely inspired by some fabulous baking blogs, I printed off my favorite recipes to make: Mango Pudding, Hokey Pokey and Mocha Panna Cotta with Fleur de Sel Caramel. And I'm not going to blame these recipes, because I still have faith in these bloggers, but I just failed at everything. I wanted to make the Mango pudding to use up a very ripe mango I had sitting in the fridge, but the recipe called for two others and they mustn't have been ripe enough because the pudding tasted a bit sour and generally not very good.

Next I attempted to make some Hokey Pokey. Now Nigella Lawson had this on her show around Christmas and I immediately tried to replicate it then, but without proper instructions I failed 3 times. But this time I was confident! I had a recipe! and an ingredients list! But the cooled Hokey Pokey didn't have the right consistency at all! It was basically a pellet of chewy sugar. But I refuse to give up on this one since I'm gonna need some sort of replacement for my Crunchie bars once I move back across the Atlantic.

Finally I made the Mocha Panna Cotta with Fleur de Sel Caramel and this wasn't exactly a failure. I still have 2 pots in my fridge and I plan on enjoying later, but I think I slightly screwed up the caramel sauce. Altough it's the right color and consistency, it doesn't taste right- which leads me to believe that I might just have issues cooking sugar in general. And the panna cotta wasn't sweet enough to take away the bitterness of the coffee.

With all these disappointments I had to bake something I knew I couldn't screw up. Something wildly delicious. Something so good, it's downright wrong. And so I made what I previously called Chocolate Cracker Things but today my colleague called them the Spawn of Satan. So I know I've done something right.

The Spawn of Satan
formerly known as Jennifer Fearing's Chocolate Cracker Things

  • About 40 Saltine crackers

  • 1 Cup sugar

  • 2 sticks of butter

  • 1 Bag of bittersweet chocolate chips

As this recipe is thoroughly American the measurements are obviously a bit biased. So when I made this in London I used:

  • 1.5 Sleeves of Tuc crackers

  • 1 Cup (or 8oz) sugar

  • 250gr Country Life butter

  • 450gr Bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to HOT

Line a large cookie sheet with tin foil. Cover the pan in crackers.

In a medium saucepan, combine butter and sugar. Cook until the sugar is dissolved and bubbling.
Poor evenly over the crackers- spreading the mixture to the edges.

Pop the pan into the oven for 5-8 minutes, or until the butter starts to bubble and turn slightly brown and golden.

Evenly spread the chopped chocolate over the crackers and melted butter. Use a spoon to spread the now melted chocolate evenly over the crackers. Let cool and refrigerate for at least an hour.

When cold and hard, use the tin foil to pull the crackers out of the pan and break into large pieces.

I'm not sure how to capture the deliciousness of this snack- It's SO much more than crackers with butter, sugar and chocolate. It might just be the perfect combination.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

You complete me

Although my tiny flat came with an unproportionally large and very well stocked kitchen, I can't help but miss some crucial tools- others I just long for...

  • A microplane zester

  • actual mixing bowls (I use a salad bowl which doesn't even have a rounded bottom)

  • a food processor

  • a spatula (maybe even a silicon one, dare I say?)

  • Kitchen Aid mixer

  • jelly roll mats

  • pastry blender

  • A cupcake pan (my Yorkshire pudding pan just ain't cuttin' it)

  • Pastry bags

  • a garlic press

  • a wok

  • a cocktail shaker

  • Martini glasses

  • all my pretty plates

Friday, July 4, 2008

Gotta Love

Kris's dream:

I had a horrible dream that we were getting married for some stupid reason. And then when it came down to actually going through with it I didn't have my coat and tie (I forgot them) and then I flipped out and was like "IDON'TWANTTODOTHISIDON'TWANTTODOTHIS NO MOM SHUT UP I'M TOO YOUNG THIS IS STUPID NONNONONONONONONONONONONONONO"

That first line really cracks me up.