I'm Back! A Pastry Class at SFBI

March 6th, 2009 · 43 Comments · Events, San Francisco, Sweet Spots


White Chocolate Mousse Cake with Raspberry Filling

Hello dear readers,

It's been a long hiatus (at least it feels that way to me!) and I've sorely missed blogging and sharing my thoughts with all of you!

The last month is probably the longest I've gone without writing on this site, and I realized how much I missed doing it  – the sweet inspirations I would get, the excitement of documenting it all, and of course the joy of sharing with everyone else out in the blogosphere, and seeing what all of you were up to. Even though I'm immensely thrilled and grateful to have the experiences of working on two cookbooks, I don't think I'll ever want to stop blogging; it's too much fun, and too fulfilling, to give up.

So, to update: I'm happy to report that the manuscript for my second cookbook, all about candy, is just about ready to send off the printers. I had a fantastic photoshoot with a tremendously talented photography team, and I'm really excited about how it's all going to come together. I'll be sure to fill you all in with more details as the publication date draws closer (this fall!). While I know the excitement will pick up again when the book comes out, I'm actually quite happy right now to take a deep breath, remove my candy-tinted glasses, and see what else is going on.

To decompress after several months of hard work on candy, what better remedy than the company of fellow pastry aficionados? The Bay Area is lucky to have a wealth of resources for the culinarily inclined, from professional programs to weekend classes for the home enthusiast. Although I'm a proud alumna of Tante Marie's Cooking School, I'm always up for an opportunity to learn from other teachers. This opportunity came in the form of the San Francisco Baking Institute, a school located just south of the city. In addition to a full-time professional bread and pastry program, they also offer week-long courses on topics ranging from viennoiserie to wood-fired oven baking.

The class I took was SFBI's Pastry 3 class, which covers multi-component cakes and entremets, their composition, decoration, and presentation. Over five days we made the various cake layers, mousses, frozen inserts, chocolate decorations, and then assembled all the pieces into beautiful desserts. Often at home, these elaborate creations can seem too complicated or time-consuming to make. In the Pastry 3 class, it was nice to remember how rewarding making these desserts can be. The class was a good mix of lecture and lab, with plenty of technique demonstration as well as ample time for us to work on our creations.

Following are some shots from the class, along with the cakes we created. I apologize in advance for some of the less-than-stellar framing and quality of the photos; it's a challenge to pay attention in class and be working and be trying to frame shots!


The pastry class, hard at work. SFBI is satisfying well-equipped with just about every piece of baking equipment and ingredient you could ever need, which makes creating beautiful pastry a breeze. After not working in a commercial bakery for a while, it's wonderful to be in a place with walk-in refrigerators, tons of cake pans and speed racks, all the fancy silicon molds my JB Prince-addicted heart could desire, and some really nice ingredients (you can see the Cacao Barry and the feuilletine off in the background if you squint.)


Filling a mold with the mousse for the chocolate dome. You can see one of the tempered chocolate discs being layered inside. Photos of the finished cake below.

CakedemoOur talented instructor Juliette pondering the demo cakes she has made for us. 


Here's a cutaway of the first cake we made, a white chocolate mousse cake with a raspberry insert and sponge cake base. Decorated with white and pink-colored chocolate spray and border of macarons. There was a really nice balance of sweet and tart in the different components; although many people fear white chocolate's cloying sweetness, this cake didn't have any of that. Just about everyone I served it to really enjoyed it.

Chocolate Mousse Cake with Crispy Praline and Sweet Orange Risotto. You can see we also decorated this cake with chocolate spray – an entertaining but messy process!


Cutaway slice of the cake showing the orange and vanilla infused risotto and the crispy hazelnut feuilletine layers. I'd never put risotto in a cake before – it's like a layer of rice pudding, adding subtle flavor and texture to an otherwise very chocolatey dessert.


Tropical Tart with a Coconut Dacquoise Base, Coconut Mousseline, and Pineapple. A tart with a base of crisp, nutty dacquoise, spread with a layer of creamy coconut mousseline, and topped with pineapple covered in a glaze of sugar syrup infused with vanilla bean, orange zest, and mint. A refreshingly light reprieve from all the other rich mousse cakes we sampled at the end of class.


This was a class favorite: the Lemon and Blackberry Mousse Cake. We made the wall of the cake from joconde similar to this other cake I did.


As part of the class, and as a lesson in using up every valuable bit of pastry scrap you have, the leftover joconde and lemon mousse were used to line and fill individual cake molds.


And here are the little cakes when popped out of the mold! Ready to decorate for the petit fours tray.


Little lychee pâtes de fruits.


Trays and trays of everyone's favorite, macarons. We made about five different flavors: chocolate, raspberry, lemon, pistachio, and coffee. It's always fun for someone who's already been inducted into macaron madness to see the reactions of macaron first-timers: some aren't quite sure what these delicacies are all about, others are intrigued by the process of macronage, but everyone can't help but want to sample them all at the dessert table.


Strawberry Breton Tarts, with strawberries and pistachio cream in a buttery, fantastically crumbly sable breton crust.


The last cake we did: a Chocolate Dome with Chocolate Whisky Mousse and Crispy Praline, finished with chocolate tiles and candied hazelnuts.


You can see in the slice of cake the several discs of tempered chocolate layered in the mousse, which gives an unexpected crunch to what might otherwise be a monotonous pile of chocolate mousse. I really, really, liked this cake, but honestly, I'm still hard-pressed to choose a favorite from all the ones we made.


Part of the dessert display at the end of class. Macarons and petits fours galore.

Another shot of the dessert display. At this point everybody was waiting for everyone else to put down their cameras so they could dig in.

I'd like to thank SFBI for putting together such a fun, well thought out, and useful class, and to Erin Bailey, the director of business initiatives, for giving me such a warm welcome. I spoke with her over the course of the week and was excited to learn about SFBI's philosophy and plans. The school has a passionate interest in promoting the pastry arts and supporting enthusiasts, professionals, and entrepreneurs. For those aspiring bakery owners, SFBI actually provides consulting services for those who are interested in starting a business and who need some guidance. I think this is a fantastic and much-needed service that could help advance many bakers' dreams into happy reality; a resource I'm happy to promote. Bailey also indicated that SFBI is planning on continuously expanding their curriculum to cover more topics. I'm really happy that there is another pastry school in the Bay Area I can recommend to people. Check out their site, as well as their new textbook, another doorstopper tome full of tons of useful information.

After this pastry vacation, I think I may all rejuvenated and ready for a return to blogging! Next week, I'll talk about my own upcoming class at Tante Marie's Cooking School!

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Sugar High Friday: Spice Up Your Life! Part Two

November 4th, 2008 · 16 Comments · Events

Hello to everyone – I hope your Halloween was sweet and whetted your appetite for the second part of the SHF round-up. I am very grateful for everyone's patience and indulgence as I sorted through a truly inspiring array of entries. I want to mention again just how blown away I am by all the baking talent out there; I was amazed and humbled by all your creativity and skill. Even as I trying to get all the entries up as fast as I could, I kept being distracted by all these wonderful blogs I was discovering, and wanted to spend my time reading them instead!

So thank you for letting me be your host, and for helping me expand my ever-growing circle of blogs to visit! Without further delay, onward to the second half of the Spices round-up!

Apple tart with crystalized ginger shf
Linda of Make Life Sweeter! baked this beautiful Apple Tart with Crystallized Ginger – I love the plate it's on as well!


Peabody of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody used one of my favorite fall fruits in her Pear Nutmeg Bread Pudding.

Automn pie

Ivy of Kopiaste used pumpkin, apples, and quince to make a true Autumn Pie.


Madam Chow of Madam Chow's Kitchen is ready for the holidays with her Eggnog Ice Cream Profiteroles with Chocolate Sauce.


Mike of Mike's Table has a classic combination going with his Caramelized Apple and Cinnamon Cream Tart.

Apple Cake

Aimee of Under the High Chair sent in a truly gorgeous Tonka Bean Spiced Apple-Raspberry Cake – I always love seeing tonka beans used!


Esi of Dishing Up Delights came up with a very restaurant-worthy dessert: Pumpkin Shortcakes with Apple Compote and Vanilla Honey Ice Cream.


Vanille of @ Down Under contributed her Spicy Pistachio Candy – love the color and the photo!

Persian Love Cake_to send

Yasmin of Almond and the Hazelnut makes an eyecatching SHF debut with her Persian Love Cake


Amanda of Slow Like Honey sent in a gorgeously assembled and plated Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Ganache.

Chelsea bun

Elodie of Yummyaourt baked some Hackney Chelsea Buns – perfect for a chilly morning.


Veronica of Veronica's Test Kitchen, the macaron goddess, sent in her latest version – Macarons with Saffron-Pear ganache.

Mele Cotte Spiced Pear  

Chris of Melecotte gets warms and cozy with Baked Spiced Pears.


Leah of Wine Imbiber uses of my favorite savory spices in her Chipotle Apple Pecan Cake


Kristin of Figue et Noisette made some really tempting Pear and Apple Compote with Spiced Butter Biscuits.

Lauren of I'll Eat You contributed some Sweet and Spicy Pecan Brittle – brilliant, since I've been experimenting with brittles!


Lisa of dandysugar made a Thyme-Scented Apple Galette – so perfectly simple and delicious.


Vera of Baking Obsession gives an Asian twist to pumpkin with her beautiful 5-Spice Pumpkin and Date Loaf.

Spiced financiers SHF 

Sandra of Le Petrin turns financiers in a fancy dessert with her Spiced Financiers with Poached Spiced Pears.


Paula of Half-Baked Baker baked these truly decadent Autumn Pumpkin Muffins with Pecan Toffee Streusel.


Stephanie of Confessions of a City Eater sent in these wonderfully named Spiced Sugar Coins.


Monica of the sour plum baked some yummy-looking Macarons au pain d'épice  – lovely form!


Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook made a Yorkshire Parkin, which I hadn't heard of before, so thank you for introducing me to this!

Laws of the Kitchen

Cakelaw of Laws of the Kitchen contributed her Spicy Banana Cake, an excellent way to use up ripened bananas.

SHF Pumpkin Creme Brulee 1008

Denise of Chez Us made a really scrumptious Pumpkin Crème Brulee – I just had some at a restaurant last night and now I'm craving more!


Holly of PheMOMenon goes over the top with her Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies.


Mansi of Fun and Food Cafe makes a moist and hearty Chocolate Zucchini Bread.


Jacqueline of Toxo Bread has some Kanelbulle – so exquisitely shaped!

Choc mouse_small 

Anh of Food Lover's Journey amazes again with her absolutely stunning Star Anise Chocolate Mousse.


Judith of Shortcut To Mushrooms made a cozy, tempting Spice Cake.


Celia of English Pastis is making me long for a tropical vacation with her Mango & Cardamom Upside-down Cake.


Mary of Alpineberry is all ready for the holidays with her All-in-One Holiday Bundt Cake.

Pizzelle 250 X 250  

Susan of FoodBlogga sent in these intricately formed, delicate Pizzelles.


Marija of Palachinka created this stunning Strawberry & Poppy Seed Cake.


Kate of A Merrier World gets everyone's spice senses tingling with her Chai Chilli Biscuits.

Apple cake resized

Winnie of Bake From Scratch overachieved with two spectacular-looking desserts: Sticky Spiked Double-Apple Cake w/ Brown Sugar-Brandy Sauce

Quince cake resized

and Spiced-Quince Butter Cake w/ Candied Walnuts.

Pump Choc Chip

Kara of Kara's Kitchen makes me think of Charlie Brown with these Great Pumpkin Cookies.

Spicy Fruit 1

Renato of Sugar Nut gets most creative with these Spicy Fruit Skewers.


Katharine of the Fresh Dish sent in a Plum, Pear, and Cardamon Coffee Cake with Southern Comfort, Saffron, and Ginger Ice Cream - yes it's a mouthful!


Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar makes an adorable presentation with her Spiced Pumpkin Pots de Creme.


Helena of MooseAbout sent in these very cutely named Zesty Date Cookies with Marshmallow Beaks.


Bron of Bron Marshall contributes these delicious Spiced Manuka Oaties, all tied up for giftgiving!

Chocolate gingerbread 250 

Nicisme of Cherrapeno made this wonderfully decadent, luscious Chocolate Gingerbread Cake.


Andrew of Spittoon Extra finishes off SHF with some beautiful candy-colored Vanilla Poached Quinces.

Again, if I've made a mistake with anyone's photo, name, links, let me know and I'll fix it right away. Also if I've forgotten anyone, PLEASE e-mail me. I've gone through my inbox several times and I think I've got everyone who entered, but if I inadvertently left someone out, I will of course rectify that immediately.

Thanks again everyone! It was a fun and memorable experience, and I look forward to seeing more of all of your sweet creations in the future!

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Sugar High Friday: Spice Up Your Life! Part One

October 31st, 2008 · 17 Comments · Events

There’s a definite autumnal chill in the air here: the beloved San Francisco Indian summer has finally made its last farewell, I think, and brisk, crisp, fog-coat of fall is rolling in with gusto. Perfect timing, I do believe, for all manner of spicy treats to warm one up. It’s one of the things I love so much about fall: warm woolly scarves in all shades of winter-defying primary colors, rubber rainboots squeaking against rain-slick streets, something baking in the oven, filling the house with a comforting scents of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, anise.

I’m so very impressed (and overwhelmed) by all the entries I received for my very first Sugar High Friday. Jennifer of the Domestic Goddess graciously let me take on the duties for this month, and I hope I’ll do an adequate job at showcasing all the wonderful ways you have come up with to use spices! I am truly impressed by all the creativity and talent out there, and am glad to have gotten the chance to meet all these other sweet bloggers!

Onward to the first part of the round-up!


Sailaja of Sailu’s Kitchen made two dishes for SHF!  Semiya Payasam ~ Vermicelli Kheer


and Rava Laddu ~ Sweet Semolina Balls. I love the vibrant colors!



Shavedicesundays of Shaved Ice Sundays created this Jujube Rice Pudding with Cinnamon and Honey – so seasonal and so yummy!


Hannah of BitterSweet baked up these intriguing  Autumnal Wattleseed Muffins – I’m especially liking the square shape!

Zita of Simplicious made this absolutely beautiful Hummingbird Cake.


Andrew of Eating Leeds used one of my favorite flavor combinations in his Chocolate Chili Fudge Cake.


Y of lemonpi came up with these Baked Mandarin Custard with Mandarin and Hazelnut Soldiers – I love the name and the flavors!


Ning of Heart and Hearth used one of my favorite fruits to make these Strawberry Muffins.

Pumpkin Chai Tart

Shari of Whisk got a head start on Halloween with her Pumpkin Chai Tart.


Dita of Yummy! My Culina Sanctuarium shares her Favorite Boiled Fruit Cake.

Pear Galette small

Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen makes one of my favorite fall desserts, Spiced Pear Galette

Quince Bun Resized

Laura of Food Diaries of a Concubine created some Quince and Cardamon Breakfast Buns, which I am now craving!

SHFginger cookies

Lori of Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness thoroughly embraces the spice with her Triple Ginger Cookies.



Heather of Diary of a Fanatic Foodie made a Chocolate Pumpkin Bundt Cake with Cranberry Bourbon Sauce, a fab dish for the holiday table.

Churros for shf

Arfi of HomeMadeS created these divine-looking Churros con Chocolate.

Wine cake 2

Gretchen of Canela & Comino made a wonderful, heady-sounding Wine Cake.


Rachael of I Eat the World sent in these lovely Sweet Potato Pikelets with Spiced Sauteed Pears – now I’ve learned about pikelets!


Kristen of Something Sweet must be a shortbread lover like me, her Brown Sugar Shortbread sounds delicious!


Helen of Tartelette made these absolutely adorable Bittersweet Chocolate Cardamon Cupcakes.

The ring sliced and eaten

Sunshinemom of Tongue Ticklers shared the joys of the Swedish Tea Ring with us.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

Dana of Dulcedo tempted all pumpkin lovers with her Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies.


Sweatha of TastyCurryLeaf put a spin on an old favorite with her Orange Cardamon Monkey Bread.


Kelly of Sass and Veracity added some Southwestern spice to the mix with her Chocolate Chipotle Cakes with Tomatillo Sauce and Cream.


Jude of Apple Pie, Patis, and Pâté submitted a truly elegant fall dessert – Pumpkin Pavé – Spiced Pumpkin Filling on Streusel.


Anne of A Foodie Froggy in Paris made a Tart Tatin with Pears and Aniseed Honey-poached Quinces – all that fruit sounds so delectable!


Kay of Salubrious Tryst made these cleverly named Acronym Muffins – go find out what’s in them!


Bharti of Veggie Foodist contributed a lush and light Eggless Vanilla Apple Cake.

Cinnamon pecan biscotti 1

Caitlin of Engineer Baker sent in some really yummy Double Cinnamon Pecan Biscotti, all ready for dunking.

Apple crumble bar

Zhulaiha of epicurean escapism serves up the best of fall with her Apple Crumble Bars.


Freya of The Cocoa Lounge goes for an Asian twist with her Coconut and Lemongrass Truffles

Spiced Choc Orange Bread 03-250px

Meeta of What’s for Lunch, Honey? sent in a beautiful jewel-toned Spiced Chocolate & Orange Bread.


Susan of Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy is all set for the holidays with her Pumpkin Cheese Pie with Toffee and Caramel Swirl.


Judy of Judy’s Gross Eats also made two dishes: A lovely Gingerbread with Crystallized Ginger


and a tempting Spicy Pumpkin Custard. Beautiful job!


Elizabeth of Cake or Death? got a perfect shot of her lovely Chocolate-Chile Souffles with Cardamom Creme Anglaise.

SHF Glazed Prune Cake

Deeba of Passionate About Baking submitted a Glazed Prune Cake – I am as impressed by the cake as the props!



Janne from The BIte Size does her first SHF with an amazing Orange Carrot Cake with Chili Pepper, Thyme and a Citrus-Ginger Icing.


Hanne of Freshly Made tempts us all with her very photogenic Apple Cake with Spices.


Retno of Kedai Hamburg gave us her Banana-Choco-Walnut and Sultana bread – full of everything that’s delicious!

White choc pecan spice friands new

Patricia of Technicolor Kitchen in English made White Chocolate and Pecan Spice Friands – I have a weakness for financiers so I’ll have to try these!


Minh of Couture Cupcakes baked up some beautiful Peanut Butter and Banana Cupcakes with Five Spice – a very interesting combination!

The second part of the round-up will follow next week – I’m sorry I couldn’t fit you all in, but for everyone who’s not in the first part, rest assured you’ll be hearing from me this weekend!

Also, if any of the links or information in this post is wrong, let me know and I’ll correct it right away!

Finally, just another little tidbit about my book  – I don’t mean to bring it up in every post, but I wanted to let all your readers know that Field Guide to Cookies is being featured on Bust, and they are giving away 10 copies of my book! All you have to do it fill in the online entry form. I believe the contest ends November 5th so enter now!

Have a great weekend!


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I'm the Host for Sugar High Friday! Time to Spice Up Your Life

October 7th, 2008 · 41 Comments · Events


I'm very excited this month, and not just because it's finally, fully autumn and there's all the wonderful cold-weather baking I'm going to do, plus the holidays lurking in the turning of fall leaves (is it me, or do Christmas displays in the stores go up sooner and sooner every year?)

I'm thrilled to finally be hosting Sugar High Friday, the grande dame of online events for sweet-minded bloggers. When I e-mailed Jennifer, The Domestic Goddess and founder of this event, I expressed surprise that I'd been running a dessert blog for two and half years and had yet to play host, and she concurred.

For my inaugural turn as Sugar High Friday host, I'm choosing Spices as the theme. I think it's fabulously appropriate, as fall is the perfect time for filling your kitchen with the alluring and cozy aromas of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and all those other spices that put one in the holiday frame of mind.

It's also a chance, if you like, to experiment with some spices that you may not be as familiar with and perhaps may not associate with baking: star anise, rosemary, wattleseed, to name a few?

The rules for this Sugar High Friday are simple: make something using one or as many spices as you like.
If you need some inspiration for spices to use, there are some great lists here and here. It should still a sweet dish and not a savory dish, of course! Here are some spice-inspired recipes from Dessert First to get you going:

Apple Spice Cakes

Maple Star Anise Mousse

Spiced Chocolate Mousses

Roasted Cinnamon Ice Cream



I've also taken this opportunity to make Claudia Fleming's Sugar-and-Spice Doughnuts from The Last Course. I seldom make doughnuts, fearing their effect on my waistline, but these fluffy, yeasty little pillows of happiness are worth it. The dough is a breeze to make and the finished golden fritters boast a distinctly exotic tone with the inclusion of orange flower water and mace. Rolled in sugar, cinnamon, and cardamon, they are delightful way to start the day – or end a meal.

So this month, I hope to see you all adding a little spice to your lives! How can you participate and show me your spice?

1. Make your dish and post about it on your blog before Monday, October 27th.

2. Send me an e-mail with SHF in the subject line. Include in your e-mail:

The name of your dish

The link to your post

The link to your blog

A photo of your creation (250 px by 250 px)

Your name, of course, so I can properly credit your creation in the round-up!

3. Come back on Friday, October 31st (otherwise known as Halloween) for a sweet-and-spicy roundup!

Happy Baking, and I look forward to seeing all your entries!

Sugar and Spice Doughnuts

adapted from Claudia Fleming's The Last Course

makes about a dozen doughnuts


1/2 cup milk

1/3 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon sugar

1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon mace

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large egg

1 tablespoon orange flower water

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Vegetable oil for frying

Sugar and Spice Topping

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamon

Warm milk in a saucepan or in microwave until just warm, not hot (you will kill the yeast). Combine milk in a small bowl with the 1/2 tablespoon sugar and the yeast and let sit for 10 minutes, until the mixture has expanded and bubbled.

Combine flour, remaining sugar, mace, and salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer.

Mix the egg, orange flower water, and 3 tablespoons of water together in another small bowl.

With the mixture running on low speed, slowly add in the yeast mixture, egg mixture, and melted butter, mixing just until it starts to come together.

Switch to the dough hook and mix the dough together for another 10-15 minutes, until the dough has formed a ball around the hook and making slapping noises around the bowl.

Scrape dough together, place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

Roll the dough out to about a 3/16" thickness on a lightly floured surface or silicone baking mat. Chill for 30 minutes.

Cut the dough into rings and holes with a donut cutter, or if don't have one, just cut into 1-inch squares. Place on a baking sheet lined with lightly greased parchment paper, cover with another piece of lightly greased parchment paper, and let proof in a warm area for about 30 minutes, until the doughnuts have risen.

Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients for the sugar and spice topping in a bowl.

When you are ready to fry the doughnuts, fill a medium heavy-duty saucepan about half full with the oil and heat on medium-high heat to 375 degrees.

Carefully drop in a few doughnuts at a time, taking care not to overcrowd them – they won't be able to cook properly and you'll have more difficulty pulling them out at the right time.

Fry for about 1 to 2 minutes on each side until they are evenly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain.

When they have cooled enough to touch but are not totally cool, toss them in the sugar and spice topping to coat. Serve immediately.

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Ready for Another Chocolate Adventure?

October 3rd, 2008 · 23 Comments · Chocolate, Events, Recipes, Tarts


Thank you to all of you for your well-wishes – they definitely buoyed my spirits over a weekend of sneezing, sniffling, and coughing – let's just say you probably didn't want me anywhere near where your food was being prepared! However, I'm happy to say I am 100% recovered, all tissues and cough drops have been returned to their proper places, and I'm itching to be back in the kitchen!

I have a backlog of posts I'm eager to get up, and the first one is a recap of a very fun event I went to a few weeks ago. Remember the Chocolate Adventure contest from last year? It's back for a second round: entrants are invited to create an original recipe using Scharffen Berger chocolate and one or more of 16 adventure ingredients, from more obvious items like cocoa nibs and matcha tea to true challenges like mustard seeds, jicama, and coriander. This year, the adventure theme is being extended even further: there are three categories: Sweet, Savory, and Beverage. Each category will have a grand prize winner who will get $5,000, signed copies of Essence of Chocolate, Pure Dessert, and Demolition Desserts (I'll add that I can vouch for the excellence of all three books and their necessity on your bookshelf!), plus the honor of having their recipe published on TuttiFoodie and the Scharffen Berger newsletter.

All the official rules are here: you are allowed up to 10 entries, so get your chef's hats on and your tastebuds primed. The contest started on October 1 and runs until January 4th, 2009, so you have plenty of time to come up with the most innovative, adventurous chocolate recipe ever!

To kick off the excitement and get us thinking about unusual flavor combinations with chocolate, sponsors Schaffen Berger Chocolate Maker and TuttiFoodie, along with food diva extraordinaire Marcia of Tablehopper, threw a little party at Orson, Elizabeth Falkner's newest restaurant.

I'm a big fan of Elizabeth Falkner, and I thought the choice of her as a kind of patron saint for a contest celebrating culinary creativity was inspired genius. Falkner is a chef who works fearlessly with sweet and savory ingredients, who plays with flavor and texture in the most whimsical, avant-garde of ways, yet never forgets that food should be foremost delicious and satisfying. Her first restaurant, Citizen Cake, showed she was so much more than just a pastry chef working with sugar and butter, and Orson is just the next extension in her culinary explorations.


The restaurant looks like a cross between a modern art museum and a sleek, ultracool lounge. The center is wide open and dominated by a dramatic hanging sculpture over a bar, perfect for after-work libations.


Here's a better perspective of the space. We are about to have John Scharffenberger lead us through a blind chocolate tasting – if you look closely, you can spot the little eye masks at each person's seat. Scharffen Berger has just released a special edition 10th Anniversary bar called Finisterra, made of a blend of beans from Venezuela, Trinidad, and Madagascar. What Scharffenberger did was have us taste each of the three component chocolates individually, to see how they differed in taste, mouthfeel, and finish, and then taste the finished bar, explaining how they combined the three and how they worked with each to create an entirely new flavor, but with identifiable notes from its parts. It was really eye-opening – pardon the bad pun – how not being able to see definitely forced you to concentrate and focus on the flavors of the chocolate in a different way. Plus, there is something just a little naughty about having someone feed you chocolate while you're blindfolded…

I realize I took no photos of Elizabeth Falkner! Well, here's one if you don't know what she looks like. She was busy running back and forth from the kitchen, bringing out an amazing array of courses, all using chocolate and some of the adventure ingredients in some surprising arrangement. All I can say is,  thank your lucky stars that Falkner is not competing in this contest! She is, however, one of the judges, so know that this is one chef who is very well versed in exotic experimentation!

We started off with a rum-based cocktail laced with kaffir lime and chocolate shavings, moved on to potato rounds topped with cocoa nibs and romanesco, and then chicarrones (fried pork skins) dipped in a bittersweet chocolate sauce. By the way, the chicarrones are a staple on her bar menu, but served with barbecue sauce. Give me a bucket of those chicarrones and some chocolate sauce to dip it in, and I will happily die from a heart attack.

For the main courses, we started with a salad of mango, avocado, and cherry tomatoes with chocolate shavings and a violet vinaigrette, and then were served roast pork in a chocolate mole sauce spiced with chili and ginger. Sorry I have no photos of all these – it's not that I pigged out and ate them all before snapping shots, it's just the quality didn't come out very well!


Here are two shots that did come out decently – this one is a quenelle of Parmesan pudding along with some red peppers, and cocoa nibs mixed with unflavored Pop Rocks – yes, pop rocks are one of the adventure ingredients.  Creamy and rich without being overpowering, and the pop rocks added an interesting sensation contrast to the pudding.


This was the one "real" dessert – imagine that we've had about 8 dishes, all using chocolate in some way, and only one was a sweet item! This was, of course, one of my favorites – chocolate and black olive ice cream sandwiched between thin cookies made of chocolate, cocoa nibs, and espresso. I'm not a fan of olives, but this was really something special – the bitter saltiness of the olives played wonderfully off the chocolate, making it sweeter and more complex at once. It's one of those dishes that makes you happy you've opened your mind to possibilities heretofore unconsidered.

All of us lucky enough to be at Orson certainly came away with a new appreciation for the versatility of chocolate as an ingredient. I've seen plenty of amazing creativity out there in the blogosphere as well, so I'm sure all of you who enter will be dreaming up some astonishing dishes!

I'm being a little less creative for this post, but after eating at Elizabeth Falkner's restaurant I couldn't help making one of her recipes from Demolition Desserts. This one, called A Chocolate Tart Named Desire, is a sweet, sassy ode to the South – essentially a warm chocolate cake batter baked in a buttery tart shell lined with a layer of rich caramel. Decorate with some pecan praline and some mint-and-bourbon-laced cream, and you have yourself a beautiful, balmy evening on the front porch – or a cozy evening inside, if fall's already settled in firmly where you are.

The dessert is multi-part, like most of Falkner's desserts, but it's worth the work – the chocolate tart is nicely rich and smooth, and I like how the tart crust "corrals" the cake batter so it doesn't run everywhere. The caramel sauce and pecan praline just up the decadence factor – there's something about pecans and brown sugar and butter that makes it really hard to stop eating them. Finally, a little bit of mint, just to cut through all the richness and add a sprightly top note.

It's good to be back, everyone – best of luck if you're entering the Chocolate Adventure contest, and also come back next week – I'm the next Sugar High Friday host and I'm just about ready to announce the theme!


Other Recipes to Try


Rosebud Creme Brulee

Warm Chocolate Caramel Tart

adapted from Elizabeth Falkner's Demolition Desserts

makes about (8)  3 1/2 in tarts


1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) all-purpose flour

1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons (2 ounces) sugar

1 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened,cut into small pieces

1 large egg yolk

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons heavy cream

Caramel Sauce

1/4 cup water

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup (7 ounces) sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces

4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter

3 large eggs, separated

pinch of salt

6 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces) sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

To make the crust: Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix a few times with the paddle attachment just to combine.

Add in the butter and mix on low speed until it just starts to come together – there should still be visible pieces of butter and it should not be a smooth, homogeneous mass.

Add in the egg yolk and cream and mix until the dough just forms into one mass.

Turn out dough onto a piece of plastic wrap. form into a flat slab, and wrap well. Chill for at least one hour to let the dough firm up.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, and place eight 3 1/2 tart rings on it.

Take out the dough, cut in half, and return rest to the refrigerator for another time. Roll out the dough to about 3/16" thick. Using the tart rings as a guide, cut out rounds of dough and press into the tart rings, forming it to the bottom and sides. Trim the dough off the top so it is even with the tart rings.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, rotating halfway. If the dough starts to puff up, push it back down with a dough tamper.

Remove from oven and let cool while you make the caramel sauce and filling.

To make the caramel sauce: Combine the water, cream of tartar, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan.

Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until it reaches 350 degrees and has turned dark amber. Be careful not to let it burn.

While the sugar is cooking, you can heat the cream up in the microwave or on the stove until it is warm but not boiling -it will prevent it from causing the hot caramel to seize up when you add it.

Add the butter to the caramel and stir to combine.

Pour in the cream, being careful as it will bubble out. Some of the caramel may seize up, but just place back over the heat and stir until it's melted again.

When it is all combined and smooth, remove from, stir in the salt and vanilla, and let cool before using.

To make the filling: Combine the chocolate and butter in a metal bowl and melt over a pan of simmering water. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a clean mixer bowl, whip the egg whites with 3 tablespoons of the sugar and the salt until soft peaks form. Set aside. 

In a clean bowl, whisk the egg yolk and remaining sugar together until combined and thick. Slowly pour in few spoonfuls of the warm chocolate mixture and whisk to combine until smooth. Pour in a few more spoonfuls and repeat. You want to do it slowly because if you pour it all in at once the chocolate could seize up.

Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture gently with a spatula. Sift the flour into the bowl and fold into the chocolate mixture as well.

You can use the filling right away or refrigerate for up to 3 hours.

To finish the tarts: Spoon 1 tablespoon of the caramel sauce into the bottom of the tart shells. Spoon the filling on top of the caramel sauce, covering it completely and filling the tart shell all the way to the rim.

Bake the tarts for 10 minutes. The filling should puff up and still look slightly shiny. Serve immediately.

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The Opera Cake Goes Lemon and Lavender

May 27th, 2008 · 86 Comments · Cakes, Events, Recipes


When the hosts of the month for Daring Bakers are none other than the intrepid founders themselves, Ivonne and Lis, you know it will be something special indeed. These two lovely ladies who have created the web's most wonderful baking community, along with Fran of Apple Peaches Pumpkin Pie and Shea of Whiskful chose a beautiful and very apropos challenge for all who dare to bake: the Opera cake.

The very first time I made opera cake in pastry school, I felt like I'd scaled a baker's Everest, one made of cake and chocolate and cream and sugar. Like all the hard-core classics of French pâtisserie, opera cake offers a full-scale obstacle course to surmount: whipping egg whites, making joconde, mixing up buttercream, assembling multiple centimeter-thin layers of cake…anyone who finishes an opera cake should certainly feel the happy glow of accomplishment!

There's so much to learn from the opera cake: for example, the joconde is an almond genoise. Genoise is the French form of sponge or chiffon cake; these cakes are distinguished by the lack of leaveners in their batter. The only leavening in these cakes comes from the air whipped into the egg whites or eggs, which gives an added dimension to what's going on when you turn on your mixer. Unlike classic butter cakes, where you simply combine all the ingredients with a bit of baking powder or soda and let the chemicals do their thing in the oven, when making a genoise awareness of your actions becomes paramount. If you don't whip the eggs enough, there won't be enough air in the batter to let it rise. If you fold the ingredients together too roughly or let the batter sit out too long, you risk letting the air bubbles deflate, again losing that critical component of a genoise.

Some may prefer the robust, gloriously thick butter cake of American layer cake fame to the finicky, delicate sheets of genoise, but I find they both have their unique charms. Genoises are essential to the refined elegance of petit fours and other tea-time pastries; with the French penchant for individual-sized cakelets, you need thin, light layers for an effective presentation. The classic opera cake, which is composed of seven layers of cake, buttercream, and ganache, should be less that 1.5 inches total in height, meaning you've got to be pretty precise with all your pieces.

Then there's the buttercream: Ivonne and Lis chose a rich French buttercream for the opera cake filling. French buttercream is always a favorite because of its creamy, buttery flavor, but it can also melt faster because of its high fat content – I think I saw several DBs commenting on the softness of the buttercream. You need to work quickly with this buttercream, and don't be afraid to chill it if it's getting too soft. Myself, I tend to be more partial to the Italian meringue buttercream, because it's more stable and workable, and because it forces me to get over my fears about sugar cookery. Whichever form of buttercream you use, be sure to keep the layers of buttercream about the same thickness as the genoise layers – the genius of opera cake is the balance of textures and flavors between all the various components.

Finally, the top: classic opera cake is indelibly distinguished by its glossy smooth chocolate topping and swooping "l'Opera" writ in chocolate across the surface. But these days, all the classics are being interpreted and re-invented, and it's not surprising to find opera cake in all guises. I have to say one of my favorite versions is still Sadaharu Aoki's matcha version, which I tried to recreate. Ivonne and Lis specified a light-colored theme for the Daring Bakers challenge, and generously let us play around with flavors of our choosing. My mind immediately drifted to a lemon-lavender theme, and that's where I ended up: an opera cake brushed with lemon simple syrup, layered with lemon buttercream, and topped with lavender white chocolate mousse. Sweet, springy, and still lusciously decadent: I'd like to think French would approve of the modifications!

*By the way, for those that had trouble with making the white chocolate ganache mousse, I think the reason is that making a ganache with white chocolate and cream is quite different from making a ganache with dark chocolate. White chocolate is almost all fat, as is cream. Combining so much fat together can be almost impossible; overagitating the mixture will result in a clumpy curdled mess. The best strategy is to keep the cream and chocolate as cool as possible. Whip the cream to soft peaks, and then fold the melted chocolate in by hand. You can chill the mixture in the refrigerator to firm it up; this method is safer than trying to whip the ingredients together.

I always enjoy an opportunity to remake this pastry classic, and I especially enjoyed doing with all my fellow Daring Bakers! Thanks to Ivonne and Lis for creating the DB version of the opera cake – and for  inspiring hundreds of beautiful and scrumptious variants of this fabulous dessert!

This lemon and lavender opera cake is also dedicated to Barbara of winosandfoodies. Barbara is the founder of A Taste of Yellow, and I'm glad to have an appropriately-hued dessert to celebrate LiveStrong Day!


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