Entries from April 25th, 2009

Tweaking an Old Favorite: Meyer Lemon and Chocolate Tart

April 25th, 2009 · 34 Comments · Chocolate, Fruit, Recipes, Tarts

Whenever Meyer lemons come into season, I always get an irrepressible desire to make lemon tarts. They've always been one of my favorite things to make, and their sunny yellow hue is perfect reflection of the increasingly light-filled days. (We even had a mini-heat wave in San Francisco this weekend, with everyone scrambling to pull sundresses and shorts out from the depths of the closet. Seeing as San Francisco has approximately 2 weeks a year where it's actually hot enough to wear shorts, no one wants to waste those precious days!)


My favorite version of lemon tart is based on the first one I ever made out of Pierre Herme's Desserts by Pierre Herme . It's hard to improve on Pierre Herme's genius: a crisp, buttery pâte sucrée tart shell, filled with the most unctuous of lemon curds. Amazing how two such basic pastry fundamentals could combine into something so elementally good; proof that you don't need complicated techniques or multitudes of elements to make something really delicious.

So I felt the same compulsion this year to break out the tart rings when I saw the little nuggets of sunshine popping up at market; this time, though, I also got the urge to change things up a little bit. Gild the lily just a little and dress up the tart for after dinner.

The perfect accoutrement turned out to be a layer of bittersweet chocolate ganache, spread in a thin layer on the bottom of the shell, before the lemon curd is spooned in. At first I tried just a layer of melted chocolate, but when it hardened it was a little difficult to cut through and compromised the wonderful delicate crispness of the tart shell. A velvety, supple ganache provided just the right dark undertones to the cheery bite of the lemon. And since Meyer lemons are a bit sweeter than regular lemons, the chocolate helps ground and highlight the curd – the sunset in wait at the end of every sunny day, perhaps.


If you don't have Meyer lemons, regular ones will work just as well. While the tart should be chilled, I find it tastes best when you take it out about 20-30 minutes before serving – it lets the curd soften up slightly and regain and its wonderful addictive, creamy texture. It may be hard to wait that long, but believe me, it's worth it.

Hope your days are turning sunnier and warmer!


Pâte Sucrée

makes about 8 tartlets

1 1/4 sticks (5 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted

1/4 cup almond meal or ground almonds

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg, room temperature

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour

Lemon Cream

adapted from Pierre Hermé's Desserts

makes about 1 1/2 to 2 cups

1/2 cup sugar

zest from 2 lemons

2 eggs

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

5 ounces unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch pieces, softened but not melting

Chocolate Ganache

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate

1/2 cup heavy cream

For the pâte sucrée tart shells: Place the butter in a food processor and process until soft and creamy.

Add the confectioners' sugar and process until well blended and smooth.

Add in the almond meal, salt, and vanilla extract and process until well blended.

Add in the egg and egg yolk and process until just blended; scrape the bowl down as necessary.

Add the flour and pulse just until the dough starts to come together into a ball; don't overprocess. The dough will be very soft like cookie dough.

Scrape the dough out of the food processor and make into a ball. Flatten out into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill in refrigerator for at least 4 hours until it is firm enough to handle.

When you are ready to bake off the tart shells, take the dough out of the refrigerator – let it warm up a bit if necessary but not too much because it will start melting fast.

Roll out the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap to 1/8" thickness. If the dough gets too soft, place back in the refrigerator to firm up.

Place the tart rings you will use on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper.

Cut out circles of dough to fit into desired tart rings. Press the dough carefully into the tart rings and up the sides, being careful not to stretch the dough or it will shrink when baked. Place the rings into the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes. Trim off the excess dough from the top of the rings.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F while chilling the tart shells. When you are ready, line the shells with parchment and fill with beans or rice to keep the shells weighed down.

Bake shells for about 15-18  minutes until they are lightly colored and the shell feels dry to the touch. Remove from the oven and place on a rack. Remove the beans and parchment and brush the bottoms of the shells with a light egg wash (made from an egg white and a bit of water). Let cool before filling.

For the lemon cream: Create a water bath by placing a saucepan of water over heat to simmer and placing a metal bowl unto the pan so its bottom does not touch the water. Combine the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingers and add to the metal bowl. Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice.

Cook the mixture over the simmering water, whisking constantly, until the cream reaches 180 degrees and thickens. Keep whisking while the mixture is heating up to prevent the eggs from cooking.

Once the cream is thickened – you should be able to make tracks in the mixture with your whisk – take the cream off the heat and strain it into the bowl of a food processor or blender. Let the cream rest for a bit until it cools to about 140 degrees.

Add in the butter pieces a few at the time and combine on high speed. Once all of the butter has been added, let the mixture combine for a few minutes longer to ensure the mixture is perfectly smooth. It is the addition of butter that changes this recipe from a simple lemon curd to a rich, satiny-smooth cream.

Once the cream is finished pour it into a container and let it chill in the refrigerator for about half an hour before assembly.

To finish the tarts: Place chocolate in a bowl.

Bring cream to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat.

Pour cream over chocolate let sit for about a minute. Stir with a wooden spoon to melt and combine chocolate with cream into a smooth ganache.

Spoon some ganache into the bottom of the tart shells and spread into a thin layer. Let set for about 10 minutes to firm up.

Spoon some lemon cream into the tart shells, filling all the way to the top. Shake the tarts lightly to smooth out the cream out. Chill tarts in the refrigerator for about an hour before serving.

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A Twist on the Familiar: Tonka Bean and Cocoa Nib Ice Cream

April 17th, 2009 · 20 Comments · Cookies, Field Guide to Cookies, Ice Cream, Recipes


Do you ever wonder how just about everyone's favorite ice cream flavor seems inextricably tied to his or her childhood? After divulging their #1 choice, people will nearly always follow up with, "This was the only flavor I ate when I was a child!" or some variant thereof. I am no exception. Strawberry ice cream was my one true love (ok, there was a brief foray into orange sherbet territory, but I reconciled with strawberry pretty quickly). My sisters: chocolate and mint chip. My boyfriend: good old vanilla. I find it fascinating, and touching, that ice cream is such a cultural lodestone. It also makes me smile to think that with all the funky, jazzy, new ice cream flavors

That's not to say that I don't also embrace the flip side of ice cream: its workhorse versatility, its perfection as a canvas for endless flavor experimentation. Once I learned ice creams all start from a similar dairy base, I realized that just about any flavor was possible. Once I got an ice cream maker, there was no stopping me.


There are two main types of ice cream: French style, which is made with eggs, and Philadelphia or American style, which does not contain eggs. The French style ice cream, which uses the eggs to create a custard base, crème anglaise-style, has a richer, smoother mouthfeel owing to the emulsifying properties of the eggs; these ice creams are the ones that attract a raft of over-the-top adjectives like "indulgent", "decadent", and "sinful." Philadelphia style ice creams, which rely only on the milk and cream for richness, have a lighter, more delicate taste. Oftentimes, the recipes for Philadelphia style ice creams do not even require any cooking, making them quite simple to put together.

Both styles have their merits, however, when I am experimenting with ice cream flavors I usually like using a Philadelphia style recipe, because the simplicity of the ingredients really lets the added flavors shine through. Alice Medrich touches on this in her book Pure Dessert, where she discusses her experiments in the kitchen to really let the essence of the flavors come through; oftentimes it led to her editing out or reducing amounts of ingredients previously thought necessary.

In fact, this ice cream I made is based on Medrich's cocoa nib ice cream, one of my very favorite ice cream flavors. Now, I think this is amazing because well, 1)Medrich is an amazing pastry chef, but also 2)it's pretty difficult to displace people's ice cream preferences. If you look at at a top ten list of ice cream flavors, it always has the same perennials: strawberry, vanilla, chocolate chip, butter pecan. While I enjoy playing ice cream mad scientist in the kitchen and I think most people are now used to seeing "exotic" ice cream flavors when going out to restaurants, I'd still wager that most people are not going to list lavender honey praline or coconut lemongrass as their top flavor. Perhaps foodies in the future will prove me wrong! But I believe the power of nostalgia is hard to overcome. Also, the reason such basic flavors like chocolate and coffee have such staying power is because they are so simple and pure: they appeal to a very elemental part of us.


Which is why I found Medrich's cocoa nib ice cream such a revelation: cream infused with cocoa nib had a taste that seemed very different and yet was teasingly familiar. Cocoa nibs have a taste very remisicent of chocolate, yet also unique - they have a nutty, rustic, darker edge to them - raw, unprocessed chocolate, as it were. So when I tasted this soft, delicate ice cream, with a hue somewhere between eggshell and mocha, it tasted like a far-off memory of chocolate. I think that's why this ice cream is so appealing - it triggers just enough of a sense of familiarity, yet has a twist. Just about everyone I've urged to try this ice cream is fascinated by it.

I decided I needed my fix of this ice cream last week, and as I set about making it I thought of adding another ingredient: tonka beans. These deliciously fragrant little beans (see above) are another example of a twist on the familiar: they smell very similar to vanilla beans, mixed with cloves, cinnamon, and, some say, hay. When I tasted a tonka bean it has a taste like vanilla but also a a bit grassy, so I could see the hay comparison. Tonka beans have been used as a substitute for vanilla, so what, I wondered, would cocoa nibs and tonka beans taste like? Chocolate and vanilla or something entirely different?

As it turned out, the tonka bean added a wonderful layer of complexity to the ice cream. The chocolatey, nutty flavor of cocoa nibs is the first to fill your mouth. Then the top notes of clove and sweet vanilla round out the finish. I kept eating spoonful after spoonful, trying to discern all the different components, and then realizing that I was also really enjoying it!

A health note: tonka beans seem to be quite popular in the dessert world right now: I was turned on to them by none other than Tartelette herself. However, there have been concerns raised on the internet as to the possible dangerous side-effects of these beans. Tonka beans contain coumarin, which in large doses is considered toxic by the FDA. I'm not sure if it's actually illegal to sell tonka beans in the US, although they appear to be available in other parts of the world. My two cents is that I don't think the small amount of tonka bean used in this recipe should be dangerous for anyone who is healthy. I guess I wouldn't recommend eating tonka beans every day, but again this advice could be true for many things. If you are concerned or want to know more there is a good thread on eGullet. Also, even if you don't have tonka beans I would still highly recommend making the cocoa nib ice cream - it's that good!


To go with the ice cream I made the pizzelles from my cookie book, with a tablespoon of cocoa powder added, and dipped them in white chocolate and pistachios to create little handmade cones. Did that bring back memories of wanting my ice cream in those outrageous triple-dipped chocolate-and-sprinkled-covered sugar cones?
Yep, but that's a story for next time...

And, once summer gets closer, you can be sure I'll be working on the perfect strawberry ice cream!


Tonka Bean and Cocoa Nib Ice Cream with Chocolate Pizzelles

about 1 1/2 quarts ice cream
  • adapted from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert

Ice Cream

  • 1 1/2 cups (13 oz) whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cups (13 oz) heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) sugar
  • 1/3 cup (2 oz) cocoa nibs, coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated tonka bean
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt


  • 2/3 cup + ½ cup (5 1/2 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 pinches salt
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • ½ cup (3 1/2 oz) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the ice cream:

  • Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.
  • Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for about 20 minutes.
  • Strain mixture into a clean container, cover, and let chill overnight.
  • Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.

For the pizzelles:

  • Sift all purpose flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt into a bowl and set aside.
  • In a stand mixer with whisk attachment, whip the eggs and sugar on high speed until thickened, about 1 minute. Scrape down bowl sides as needed.
  • Combine vanilla extract with the melted butter and with mixer on low speed gradually add to egg mixture. Mix just until combined, scraping down bowl sides as needed.
  • Remove bowl from mixer and fold in the sifted dry ingredients with a rubber spatula, making sure to mix until smooth and free of dry patches. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
  • Preheat the electric pizzelle press as listed in the instruction booklet.
  • Once pizzelle press is heated, open press and place 2 teaspoonfuls of batter on each pizzelle grid and gently close the press and bake following the pizzelle press instruction booklet. Note: the first few pizzelle are never perfect,note the positioning of the batter and finished color so you can make adjustments for the following pizzelles.
  • Gently lift pizzelles from press and cool completely on a wire rack.

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Marshmallow Chicks, Just in Time for Easter

April 10th, 2009 · 24 Comments · Candy, Recipes


For any sweets aficionado, Easter is a can't-miss holiday; more candy is sold for Easter than any other holiday besides Halloween, so if you've been caught with a bag of jellybeans in your shopping cart, know you're not alone. Easter also boasts probably the largest variety of candy specifically created for celebrating the occasion: who can think of Easter without thinking of jellybeans, or giant chocolate bunnies, or foil-wrapped malted milk eggs, or yes, those (in)famous marshmallow Peeps? 

Besides the intrinsic delight in eating something that can't be found for the rest of the year, I also love Easter candy because it's so pretty: all delicate pastel shades of daffodil yellow, cherry blossom pink, and robin's-egg blue, and in the shapes of adorable little chicks and bunnies. Easter candy makes me feel happy and springlike, exactly how one ought to feel in this season of bloom and renewal.

While working on my candy book, I had the chance to research and work with a lot of different candies, and a lot of techniques and molds. I am totally in love with molds now. They make it so easy to create professional looking confections, turning your pot of tempered chocolate or hot sugar into a endlessly versatile medium. Among other candies, I was able to make some chocolate eggs and little peep-like marshmallows with my molds.


Looking back, I'm surprised I haven't blogged about marshmallows before. These boon companions to a cup of hot cocoa are also an ethereal delight on their own, especially when homemade. After hand-cut guimauve (the French word for marshmallow) that tastes of vanilla, strawberry, or violets, how could those store-bought imitations seem like anything but a sad substitute? Although making marshmallows seemed intimidating at first, after a few tries I got the hang of combining hot sugar, whipped egg whites, and gelatin into a glorious, puffy white cloud. Seeing marshmallow take shape, just like meringue or buttercream, never fails to be pastry magic for me.

Now, I've made marshmallows in a pan before, but never ones molded into the shapes of animals; however, with a mold it was surprisingly easy to make a little flock of chicks and bunnies. What you'll need is a 3-D candy mold, that creates two mirrored halves of the same shape. Once the marshmallow candy mixture you pour in has set, you can unmold and put the two halves together to form one 3-D shape. (You can also do the same thing with chocolate to make your own 3-D chocolate bunnies. I don't know why I never thought of doing this until I started experimenting with molds and discovered how many of them there were. Some excellent online sources for molds include Sugarcraft and Candyland Crafts; both offer a great variety of molds in almost any shape you can think of.

The marshmallow chicks came out quite well, and once rolled in colored sugar (one of my favorite decorating items) they are ready to perch in a chocolate egg or perhaps an Easter basket.


If you don't want to bother with 3-D molds, you can pour the marshmallow into a prepared pan and let it set, the way marshmallows are traditionally made. Then you can take a cookie cutter and cut out shapes from the sheet of marshmallow.

The recipe below is adapted from the marshmallow recipe I developed for my book; I hope you enjoy it as a little preview of what's to come.

I hope you have a happy Easter and find lots of sweets in your Easter basket!


Marshmallow Chicks

4 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 egg whites, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup potato starch

1. Prepare candy molds by making sure they are perfectly clean and dry. Spray them lightly with cooking spray, then sprinkle them with colored sugar to coat. Or, line a 9 by 13 pan with a piece of plastic wrap large enough to cover the bottom and sides and overhang the edges to act as handles. Spray the wrap with cooking spray so it can be easily removed from the finished marshmallow. Sprinkle colored sugar over the surface.

2. Combine gelatin with 3/4 cup water in a small bowl and let dissolve. Be sure the gelatin dissolves entirely and does not turn spongy. If necessary, heat in the microwave or over a stove to keep it liquid while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

3. Combine sugar, corn syrup, and 1 cup of water in a large saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Continue cooking without stirring until the mixture to come to a boil.

4. Continue cooking until mixture reaches 260°F, hard-ball stage. While the mixture is cooking, prepare egg whites. Place them in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. When the sugar syrup reaches 245°F, begin whipping the egg whites on medium high speed until they form firm peaks. Do not overwhip.

5. When the sugar syrup has reached 260°F, remove from heat. Pour in the fully dissolved gelatin mixture into the saucepan and swirl to incorporate.

6. With the stand mixer running on low, pour the sugar syrup in a slow, steady stream into the egg whites; pour down the side of the bowl to avoid having hot syrup spatter out.

7. Once all the syrup is added, turn the mixer up to high speed and whip for about 3 to 5 minutes until the mixture is very thick and glossy white.

8. Add vanilla extract and mix to incorporate.

9. Spoon the mixture into prepared molds and smooth off the tops with an offset spatula. Or, use a rubber spatula to scrape the marshmallow into the prepared pan. Smooth out the top and let the pan sit for a couple hours at room temperature to let the marshmallow set.

10. After the marshmallows have set, unmold them and fit the halves together to form 3-D shapes. Roll them in more colored sugar to coat. 

11. Or, if you've made a pan of marshmallow, combine the confectioners’ sugar and potato starch into a bowl. Sprinkle some of the mixture over a clean counter. Turn out the marshmallow onto the surface, and dust the surface and sides liberally with more of the mixture to prevent sticking. Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut the marshmallow into cubes. Run the knife under hot water and wipe clean between cuts to prevent sticking and to keep the cut edges neat.

12. Roll the marshmallows in the mixture to coat all over.

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Out of Africa – Lychee Honey Financiers

April 6th, 2009 · 16 Comments · Cakes, Recipes


Hello and happy April! So much has happened since the last post, I always feel now that I have a million news items to get through before I can get on with the main topic of the post!

First off, a big hug to Jen of the ridiculously gorgeous Use real butter for featuring my kitchen on her Kitchen Tour. Jen is a real sweetheart and I can't imagine all the work she put into processing all the photos we sent her and writing up her interviews with each of us. I'm truly flattered that she chose me as one of the kitchens to feature. For all of you curious readers out there, now you can see where all my baking occurs! Yes, it is a tiny place, and sometimes I literally have no flat surfaces left for anything! But I have my fingers crossed that there may be a bigger kitchen in my near future – so perhaps you will see an updated tour sometime! (P.S. Are you all jealous of Peabody's kitchen as well?)

Second, the cupcake class I taught last week went wonderfully – a class of enthusiastic and intelligent students, and counters of creatively decorated cupcakes at the end of each day. I was very surprised and gratified to find that some of the students had visited my blog ( a little nervous, too, hoping I could live up to whatever expectations my blog may have fostered in them). I discovered one of my students, Patricia, has her own baking blog, and blogged about my class! Since I was way too occupied during the class to take any photos, I'm indebted to her for providing a (very generous) summary! Do check out her blog! As to whether I'll be teaching again, I'm considering it – and I'll keep you all posted!

With the class and my candy book happily behind me (I'll give more details about the book in the next post), I could finally, fully turn attention back to my personal pile of baking inspirations – and have I got a lot!

One ingredient in my pantry I've been aching is use is courtesy of a dear friend who recently went to Africa as part of her job – I'll admit to dreamily living vicariously through her lyrical online accounts of visiting local villages, spying gorillas in the bush, and immersing herself in the rhythms of this far-off country. When she returned to the states, she very thoughtfully brought back some goodies for me, so that I could have a little bit of Africa for myself!

Along with a beautifully handmade wooden spoon (you can glimpse it in above photo), I also got a jar of lychee honey, described by my friend as "smoky-flavored". The honey is a luminous, pale gold – the color, I imagine, of afternoon sun falling over the African veldt. Just a spoonful of this elixir carries the distinctive sweet tang of lychees, and it does, indeed, have a exotically smoky taste. 

I knew what I wanted to use this honey in – the financiers I'd demonstrated for my cupcake class. Although most of my recipes were traditional creamed-butter-and-sugar cupcakes, I wanted to include the financier as an example of another single-serving treat. We even decorated some of the financiers with frosting, for a real American spin on a French classic.


Every time I make financiers, I always wonder why I don't make them more often. They are a snap to make, completely addictive straight out of the oven, and I love filling my kitchen with the scent of browned butter. The batter keeps like a dream in the refrigerator for about half a week, making a perfect make-ahead treat; in fact, some recipes suggest an overnight chill of the batter to improve its texture. 

The following recipe is adapted from my Field Guide to Cookies – yes, I love financiers so much I had to include them in the book! Classic financiers have a delectable, nutty taste from the browned butter and a very thin, crisp outer crust that contrasts with the tender, fluffy interior – as I mentioned, divine when fresh and still-warm. The addition of honey gives it a moister, denser crumb, so I decreased the butter a bit and left them in the oven for an extra minute or so. I also didn't brown the butter as much as I usually do – the darker the browned butter, the more intense the flavor – as I wanted to make sure the honey flavor would come through. Incidentally, I've got a video on Chow demonstrating how to brown butter! It's a fabulous technique to have in your pastry arsenal.

Although the traditional form of financiers is rectangular and ingot-like, I'm partial to the little round gems produced by the mini muffin tin, since they look even more snackable. Another wonderful quality of financiers: after cooling and sitting overnight, they will typically lose their light, airy texture, but pop them in the oven for a couple minutes and they will bounce right back. Who says financiers can't make a tasty breakfast, especially spread with jam or a little honey? I know what I'm eating for the next couple of days! 

So, I'm hoping for more regular updates now that I'm firmly ensconced in the kitchen again. Also, I know I've been dreadfully delinquent in responding to e-mails  - please, if you've sent me a message and I haven't responded, please try again and I promise I'll be paying more attention to my inbox!

I hope you all are enjoying sunshine, flowers, and spring!


Honey Financiers

about 20 financiers

4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup blanched almonds, finely ground

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

3 large egg whites

1/3 cup honey

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a mini muffin tin or financier tins with cooking spray.

Cut butter into pieces and place in a skillet or saucepan. Melt over medium heat on stove, swirling occasionally, until it starts to turn brown and smells nutty. Do not let the butter get too dark or it will burn. Strain butter into a clean bowl.

Whisk sugar, ground almonds, flour, and salt together in a medium bowl. 

Add egg whites and whisk to combine. 

Add butter and whisk to combine. It should be a thick, smooth batter.

Add honey and whisk to combine.

At this point you can cover the batter and store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Divide the batter among the prepared tins, filling almost to the top.

Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, rotating tins halfway through. The financiers should be golden brown and just firm to the touch.

Let cool on wire rack for a few minutes before unmolding.

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