San Francisco Food Bloggers' Bake Sale – This Saturday!

April 15th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Events, San Francisco


I know, where have I been? Preparing for the first San Francisco Food Bloggers' Bake Sale, this Saturday!

As a reminder, I and over 25 wonderful food bloggers will be selling our homemade cakes, cookies, tarts, pies. breads, and much more to raise funds for Share Our Strength, a national organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger! If you are near San Francisco this Saturday, please stop by to say hi and support us!

For an example of what we'll be selling, see my fellow food blogger Lisa's fab macarons!! I must state now, the food blogger community in the San Francisco Bay Area is amazing. I am truly astonished and grateful for how many bloggers and bakers, many whom I've never met before, responded to my call and offered to bake up goodies and help out. Food really does bring people together!

As a double bonus, we are holding the bake sale at Omnivore Books, the most fabulous bookstore in San Francisco for food lovers, and Rose Levy Barenbaum will be speaking at 3 PM! How can you miss it?

And a last-minute enticement! Chicago Metallic has generously donated some bakeware that we will be auctioning off! Need a new brownie pan or cupcake tin? Come by for your chance to win!

San Francisco Food Bloggers' Bake Sale

This Saturday, April 17, 12-3 PM

Omnivore Books

3885 Cesar Chavez St.

San Francisco, CA 94131

And if you can't make it, may I humbly suggest a contribution at our team page? Just click on "Make a Gift" to donate! I and all the food bloggers of the bake sale thank you!

Thanks all for your support! After this weekend, it'll be back to regularly scheduled programming – I have a report on Pebble Beach Food and Wine and a visit to Driscoll's Berry Farms I can't wait to share!

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{SF} San Francisco Chocolate Salon – A Second Go Around

April 1st, 2010 · 14 Comments · Events, San Francisco


Remember the San Francisco Chocolate Salon I attended last year? A gathering of some of best artisan chocolatiers from near and far, and all the chocolate you could handle? Well, I was lucky enough to be invited back this year as a judge. Which meant that for about three weeks I had regular deliveries of chocolate samples showing up at my door. I felt like I'd inadvertently subscribed to about 50 chocolate-of-the-month clubs by mistake – a very delicious mistake, mind you. And no need for jealousy: tickets were readily available to the salon, and when we went a weekend ago, there were plenty of chocoholics tasting some of the best chocolatiers from around the country. I am constantly astonished at the continued rise in quality and innovation in the chocolate/confection industry – and how happy everyone gets around chocolate. How can you not smile when you have someone offering you a tray of chocolate?

With about 20 categories ranging from best dark chocolate to best comfort food product, there was a lot of tasting and a lot of decision-making to do. Fortunately we had a few weeks to taste the samples, which was a good thing or even I might have passed out from chocolate overdose! On the plus side, I now have a new list of favorites and plenty of recommendations to give to anyone looking for a chocolate fix! I'm not going to reveal my choices for the salon, but I do want to share some of my personal favorites from the long, extensive, and intensive tasting. Warning: plenty of theobroma cacao ahead!


Alter Eco Chocolate, dedicated to developing and distributing fair trade food products from across the globe. They have an intriguing lineup of bars, and I got to sample three. The cacao used in these chocolate bars is harvested from a small, traditional-farming cooperative in the Bolivian Amazon.

The Dark Chocolate Blackout (85%) is Alter Eco's darkest, purest bar for those dark chocolate fanatics. The bar is beautifully made, just on the thicker side for bars(for my preference), the with a clean,crisp snap – as Alter Eco bars are made in Switzerland, they've got the imprint of the Swiss expertise with chocolate-making all over them. The chocolate is very pleasantly smooth, with a dry, slightly fruity finish. An excellent choice for anyone who's a dark chocolate purist.

If you a fan of "crunchies" in chocolate (Nestle Crunch was always one of my favorites when I was little), the Dark Chocolate Quinoa (61%) is a must-try. Quinoa mixed into the chocolate(you can see the generous proportioning in the photo above) gives it a nice crunch while you can still taste the rich chocolate – for 61%, it's still surprisingly robust. Although it's clearly of a higher class than a Nestle bar(i.e. meant to be savored slowly), I could still eat this whole bar in one sitting.

I really, really like the Dark Chocolate Velvet – it may be the elusive detente between dark and milk chocolate. Personally I am not a fan of most milk chocolate, but this bar, a mix of dark chocolate and a "touch of milk", captures the wonderful creaminess of milk chocolate while muting the dairy flavor to a sweet undercurrent. The mouthfeel is amazingly buttery. Definitely a standout – I would say whether you love, hate, or are indifferent to milk chocolate you should still give this a try!


I feel a little redundant including Amano, since it's been a heavy favorite at chocolate shows; however, it's just such great chocolate that I can't help but gush about it to anyone who will listen. Their original Ocumare bar was one of my favorite bars at the old chocolate shop/bakery cafe I used to work at. Amano has been steadily expanding its line, and I wanted to mention the highlights: Dos Rios (70%), with cacao from the Dominican Republic, is a gorgeous spicy orchard in your mouth, very fruity, tasting of bergamot oranges and cloves, and luxurious full finish. It's the orange-striped one in the top left corner if you're looking for it. Montanya(70%) is a limited edition bar made with beans from small family plantations in Northern Venezuela (the light green one in the bottom left corner). This is just a fantastic bar. The flavors are delicate but concentrated, a complex mix of apricot, nuts, and marshmallow, sweet and with a dry finish that hits you in roof of your mouth, near the back. It makes me think of fruit trees just starting to blossom in the first flush of spring. I suggest if you want to try Amano, get three or four of their different bars – it'll be pricey but worth it. It's really eye-opening to see how different all their bars are, and how they've crafted each one to express the individual notes of their bean origins. Amano also includes tasting notes with their bars, so you can tell how serious they are about their chocolate. Taste one of their bars and you'll realize that "dark" and "bitter" describe nothing about a really well-made chocolate bar. I can't love this company enough.


Amella's Cocoa Butter Caramels get my vote for one of the most unique products at the salon. Soft caramels made from cocoa butter and flavored with fruits and vegetables, then dipped in chocolate. I admit I was a little overwhelmed by the melange of concepts when I first saw them – what would they taste like? But they turned out to be wonderful little caramels with deep flavors and great texture. I admit there were a lot of caramels at the salon – at one point it seemed I had tried so many sea salt caramels I felt like I'd eaten a salt lick! Preferences for caramels can vary widely – do you like your firm, chewy, gooey, sticky? Amella's caramels are a lovely compromise – firm but not so hard you have to yank with your teeth to get a bite, with embarrassing threads of caramel trailing off. You can bite through these caramels quite easily, and they soften up quickly in the mouth, releasing a medley flavors.

I included these caramels mostly because I was fascinated by the carrot cake caramel. It seemed like such a odd idea – plus, dipped in white chocolate, I was afraid it would be a too-sweet confection. However, it tastes like a really good carrot cake: a mix of carrots, pecans, and cinnamon in a vanilla-scented caramel. Again, I like the caramel texture – firm enough to hold its shape, pleasingly chewy in the mouth. Excellent, highly recommended. The other flavors are more conventional but equally flavorful: a black forest with tangy cherries mixed into dark chocolate, and passion fruit, with the intense fruit tucked into milk chocolate. Congrats to Amella for creating such lovely caramels!


I also noticed a trend of homemade gourmet marshmallows at the salon – and a far cry from the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man they are! The prettiest marshmallows I saw had to be Gateau et Ganache's – adorable blossoms in pastel hues with a chocolate button in the center. Charmingly named "guimauves de printemps" (Spring marshmallows), they are flavored lemon, passion fruit, and strawberry and a loevely addition to the Easter table! They were pleasingly thick and springy, swooningly fluffy to the bite, and sweet without being cloying. The head pastry chef of Gateau et Ganache, Anni Golding, studied at L'École Lenôtre and L'École du Grand Chocolat Valrhona in France, and it really shows in her darling confections and perfectly formed chocolates. Shown in the box are, from top to bottom and left to right, milk chocolate cinnamon, white chocolate passion fruit(yum), dark chocolate caramel, and lavender earl grey (sweet and smoky). Beautiful boutique chocolates.  


My prize for sexiest packaging would go to Vice Chocolates for their sophisticated purple and black scheme and the beautiful reptile-patterned boxes tied with purple ribbon. I love the high, narrow design: it's truly like opening a jewel box to discover treasures hidden in the layers of tissue paper. The chocolates are flat out gorgeous as well: impeccably enrobed and decorated with luster dust and gold leaf. The flavors are offbeat but intriguing – I particularly liked the Scarlet (strawberry in dark chocolate), the Empress (jasmine and lychee), and the Salty Dog (salted caramel, done to gooey perfection). They also had a very unusual but very delicious fig and anise chocolate bar – I really love when these unexpected chocolate pairings work out so well!


William Dean was another stunner – his box of chocolates looked like a rainbow paintbox. The chocolates are so perfectly formed, with perfect swoops and rounded corners, the decorations brushed on just so. William Dean Chocolates is based in Florida, which might help explain the tropical-fantasy colors and flavors: Key Lime (the parrot-green round one, second from right on top), Cherry-Cranberry Pie (the red flowers, top right corner), Cassis Crunch (purple floral, top left corner, and Mexican Mango (leopard spots, bottom left) were among my favorites. The top half of the photo shows the true work-of-art matcha bar – I wasn't sure whether to bite into it or to frame it!

Other chocolates that tickled my tastebuds:

Divine 70% Dark Chocolate with Raspberries

Malie Kai Dark Chocolate Nibby Bar

Saratoga Chocolates -raspberry truffle(with Bonny Doon Framboise!) and valencia orange truffle

Thanks to all the chocolatiers that participated in the San Francisco Chocolate Salon and sent tasting samples to me and all the other judges.

So next time you need a chocolate recommendation, let me know! Or maybe I'll throw a chocolate-tasting party next year…

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National Food Bloggers' Bake Sale – In San Francisco!

March 22nd, 2010 · 4 Comments · Events, San Francisco


I have some more exciting news to share – I'm going to be part of the very first National Food Bloggers' Bake Sale, which is part of the Great American Bake Sale.

The Great American Bake Sale is a campaign created by Share Our Strength, a national organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger. On April 17, bake sales will be held everywhere across the nation, with the proceeds donated to Share Our Strength.

Gaby of What's Gaby Cooking came up with the excellent idea of mobilizing food bloggers to lend their numbers to this worthy cause. Check out her site for the list of food bloggers who are heading up bake sales in their various states.

I will be hosting the San Francisco Food Bloggers' Bake Sale, and I'm happy to announce that it will take place at Omnivore Books, the preeminent destination for food literature-lovers in the city! In a wonderful coincidence, I have learned from Celia, the store's owner, that Rose Levy Beranbaum will be speaking at Omnivore Books on April 17 as well! Come hear a pastry goddess speak, buy a cookbook, purchase a pastry and fight childhood hunger – how could you accomplish more on a Saturday afternoon?

What are the San Francisco Bake Sale details?

When: Saturday, April 17, 12-3 PM

Where: Omnivore Books, 3885 Cesar Chavez Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

How can you help?

If you live in the Bay Area and you want to participate in the bake sale, please e-mail me at! It doesn't matter if you have a food blog or not, only a desire to bake! I need volunteers to help bake up goods to sell, and I would love a chance to meet all you local foodies! Bring a plate of cookies or a cake, whatever you feel like contributing!

If you aren't able to bake up something, please come by and help support us! Purchase something yummy and make a donation to Share our Strength!

If you don't live near San Francisco but would still like to participate, check Gaby's page to see if there's another bake sale going on near where you live.

Also, to all my readers who don't live in San Francisco, if you would also like to make a direct donation, I would be very thankful, and you can be proud of contributing to a wonderful cause!  My team page is here - click on "Make a Gift" to donate.

Here is some additional information on Share Our Strength and The Great American Bake Sale.

As a food blogger, I realize how fortunate I am to have the luxury to bake whatever I dream up in my kitchen and write about it. Many children in this country do not even enjoy three meals a day. Let's use this opportunity and our shared love of food to help out those less fortunate than us.

Thanks for all your support and help! I'll have another post up later this week about my experiences at the Chocolate Salon!

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Valrhona Demo – A Surfeit of Chocolate

May 29th, 2009 · 36 Comments · Events, Tools


My take on the Valrhona Damas

Hi dear readers! Sorry this post has been a long time in the making, but I had a lot I wanted to share with you all!

A few weeks ago, I got an invitation to attend a dessert demonstration by Valrhona. Valrhona is, of course, considered among the creme de la creme of fine chocolate; appending "Valrhona" to the ingredient list of any chocolate dessert is like shorthand for the most luxe and elegant of indulgences.

Valrhona chocolate can be pricey, but in their case you truly get what you pay for: beautiful, full-flavored chocolate that tastes dreamy and performs wonderfully. Whenever I get to use Valrhona in my baking, I'm a happy girl.

I was especially excited to attend this demonstration because not only was Valrhona unveiling some new products, but they were bringing in some of their in-house pastry chefs to demonstrate how to use them. Another thing that impresses me about Valrhona is their dedication to the industry and art of chocolate: they are involved in both the production and harvest of cacao beans around the world, as well as the creative and thoughtful use of the created chocolate in pastry. Valrhona has a chocolate school, l'École du Grand Chocolat at their headquarters in France, that provides classes in patisserie and confectionery to professionals and enthusiasts.

One of the chefs from the school, Philippe Givre, was flown all the way to the Bay Area to lead this demonstration, along with Derek Poirier and Alex Espiritu, pastry chefs for Valrhona's USA division. Needless to say, what an exciting opportunity!


Chef Philippe Givre. Looks like the quintessential French pastry chef, no?

Really, the demonstration was more like an intense four-hour pastry class taught by a master – I got a lot more technical information and baking tips than I thought I would from a demo, which was great. Chef Givre went into very detailed explanations of the importance of ingredient temperatures, especially when making ganaches, custards, and mousses; how to whip cream properly to maximize its volume, and even a mini-digression into the the importance of dry to liquid ratios in making ice creams and sorbets. Hey, after this I am fully convinced that going to l'École du Grand Chocolat would be an awesome experience(not that it would take me a lot of convincing to go to chocolate school).

In four hours, Chef Givre and his two assisting chefs blitzed through three plated desserts, demonstrating numerous techniques and also explaining how each one utilized different Valrhona products. And yes, we got to sample everything! I think everyone was on a sugar high by the end of the demonstration!


Here's the first dessert: Diagonale of Candied Pineapple with Whipped Lime Ganache, Almond Shortbread, and Fromage Blanc and Lime Sorbet. The idea is really cute: A U-shaped base of shortbread (you can see Chef Poirier making it in the next pic) with piped lines of milk chocolate and lime ganache, topped with candied pineapple and a scoop of sorbet. The ganache is made of cream infused with lime zest, then combined with Valrhona Tainori 64% and Jivara 40%. The mixture is then refrigerated before being whipped to a light, pipable texture – something I haven't done often, but which I'm now obsessed with! Chef Givre indicated that this recipe was specifically created to utilize the Valrhona Tainori, a dark chocolate with notes of almond and yellow fruits, meant to work best with citrus fruits. Of course it's a great way for Valrhona to illustrate their long line of chocolates, but I like the point that not all chocolates are the same and it would be a educational experience to taste different chocolates you use and consider which ones might work with different ingredients.


Here's Chef Derek Poirier showing the U-shaped metal molds used to form the shortbread bases. By the way, he was really concerned that I was going to take a photo of him with his eyes closed. So I hope this one is satisfactory to him!


Chef Givre plating the dessert.


This is the second dessert, called "Damas", consisting of an emmanuel curry sponge base topped with almond mousseux, a milk chocolate namelaka, and orange jelly. This was probably the most adventurous of the desserts and also the one I liked best, so I spent last week reproducing it! Compare the one I made in the first photo to this one; what do you think?


The last dessert was what Chef Givre dubbed "New Opera", a reimagined version of opera cake. The traditional version of opera cake is layers of almond genoise layered with coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache. In this deconstructed version, a layer of chocolate cake is topped with a square of tempered chocolate. The piece on top is whipped coffee ganache sandwiched between pieces of coffee nougatine. Finally, the cake is served alongside a coffee granité topped with more whipped coffee ganache. I think I counted about four different kinds of chocolate being used in this dessert. Chef Givre said he wanted to play around with textures while preserving the original flavors of the opera cake. It was a really playful, modern take on an old pastry warhorse; I especially liked the granité with the whipped ganache.


Here's Chef Givre putting those little millefeuiles of nougatine and ganache together.

In addition to these three desserts, the chefs also presented a taste testing of chocolate cake and chocolate ice cream made with Valrhona's newest chocolate, Coeur de Guanaja 80%. Without getting overly technical, this is a dark chocolate specially formulated with lower cocoa butter content, which can allow for a stronger chocolate taste in desserts. Basically, since cocoa butter is a fat and is solid at room temperature, it increases the firmness of pastry items like cakes and ice creams. Since fats can also dilute the purity and intensity of flavors, more cocoa butter can also decrease the strength of chocolate flavor in a dessert. That's why some recipes using chocolate sometimes call for cocoa powder, since it provides chocolate flavor without adding any fat.

Coeur de Guanaja was developed especially to address this issue – it has a lower cocoa butter content, so you can use it and get a strong chocolate flavor in your pastries without compromising the texture of the final result. The taste tests really helped illustrate the difference: a chocolate cake made with Coeur de Guanaja had distinct, chocolately flavor, and was also moister and softer than a cake made with cocoa powder, which was slightly tougher. Chocolate ice cream made with Coeur de Guanaja had a pure, almost bitter chocolate flavor (80% cacao content is pretty dark) and a long, smooth finish, while ice cream made with a regular chocolate had a lighter, sweeter flavor.

I found this all very educational. Even if you don't have the luxury of choosing between ten different chocolates when baking, it's always good to increase your knowledge of how ingredients, especially one as complex as chocolate, works. Then when you want to tinker with your recipes to get different results, it's easier to figure out what you want to change.


The chefs were kind enough to pose for photos at the end of the demo. From left to right, Chef Alex Espiritu, Chef Philippe Givre, yours truly, and Chef Derek Poirier. Yes, I know I look really short compared to all of them. The tall chef's hats probably don't help.


Deborah, the public relations contact, was also kind enough to send me a box of samples from Valrhona's current line after the demonstration. Talk about unexpected Christmas, a big box of Valrhona is enough to turn any day into a celebration! What I love is that Valrhona used to provide chocolate exclusively for professionals, but they've really reached out to the consumer market, producing both bars for eating and bars for baking – you don't need to have a contact in the food industry to procure Valrhona or be forced to buy giant five lb bars (fun, but hard to store at home). They have 70g Grand Crus bars in eight of their signature blends, including their famous Manjari, Caraïbe, and Jivara Lait, 250g baking bars in dark, milk, and white chocolate, and Gourmet Grand Crus bars, their very sophisticated version of candy bars. I've been enjoying the Manjari Orange, with pieces of orange inside, and Jivara Pecan, embedded with pecans, for the last week.


Ok, so I mentioned that my favorite dessert at the demo was the "Damas" – I really loved the texture contrasts of the sponge cake and the mousseux, and the curry was an inspired touch. Unfortunately, I didn't have the right spices in my cupboard (Chef Givre suggested using madras curry powder), but I had my own idea on how to spin this recipe.

Since the main flavors in the dessert were almond, milk chocolate, curry, and orange, I chose to eliminate the curry from the sponge and add in candied orange peel and cocoa nibs. Emmanuel sponge is a type of sponge cake made very similar to madeleines. You make the batter and let it rest overnight, which helps the flavors intensify and lets it bake up better the next day. Chef Givre indicated that this is a nice alternative to genoise, since genoise batter cannot be stored and can be finicky, requiring closer supervision while baking. Emmanuel sponge batter can be made ahead of time and bakes up quickly without much fuss. I'll admit the orange-and-cocoa-nib version was amazingly addicitive; I kept snacking on it without the rest of the dessert components!

The almond mousseux is a mousse made of almond paste, milk, and cream, mixed with a bit of gelatin and allowed to set. The cut cubes look a bit like tofu, don't they? And they should have the same perfectly silken texture – it's important to make sure there are no hard bits of almond paste floating around in the mix. I'd never made a mousse with almond paste, but this was light and airy, and delicious topped with some orange jelly.

Finally, you might be wondering what "namelaka" is – I know I hadn't heard of the word. Namelaka is the Japanese word for "creamy", and this little daub of chocolate is meant to embody "creamy". When I saw that it was made of milk chocolate, milk, glucose, cream, and some gelatin, I didn't see how it was different from a mousse. But the proportions of the ingredients means that the result should be very, very melt-in-your mouth, with no cloying taste. It requires some attention and precision – the mixture needs to absolutely, 100% smooth – Chef Givre used a stick blender to finish the mix off, and you can't add too much gelatin or it will be stiff and gummy. But I knew it was something good when I gave the boyfriend a spoonful and he remarked on how light and -yes!- creamy it was, before I had described what it was supposed to be.

This is definitely a small project of a dessert, but it's actually not that difficult to make, and it's become one of my favorites because of its elegance and flavor combinations. I'm really glad to have gotten a master lesson in chocolate and recharged my creative juices- and I hope it's inspired you to experiment with your favorite brands!


Damas – Emmanuel Sponge with Candied Orange Peel and Cocoa Nibs, Almond Mousseux, Valrhona Orizaba Lacteé Namelaka, and Orange Jelly

(note: All recipes adapted from the official Valrhona versions. Original measurements were in metric so if you want to be more accurate, use those!)

Emmanuel Sponge

makes one half sheet (13"x17") of cake, about (24) 2 1/2" square pieces

1 cup (238 g) cake flour

1/2 cup (116 g) powdered sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons (10 g) baking powder

3/4 teaspoon (3 g) salt

238 g eggs (about 5 eggs)

1/2 cup (126 g) trimoline (invert sugar – you can buy this online)

1/3 cup (74 g) whole milk

13 1/2 tablespoons (193 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

3 tablespoons candied orange peel, finely chopped (I estimated)

1/4 cup cocoa nibs, finely chopped (I estimated)

1 1/2 cups streusel, see recipe below

Sift the cake flour, powdered sugar, baking powder, and salt into a bowl.

Combine the eggs and trimoline in a stand mixer and beat with paddle attachment until combined.

Add in the flour mixture and mix until combined.

Add in the milk and m ix until combined.

Add in the melted butter and mix until combined.

Pour batter into a container and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours or overnight before baking. (Note: This really does make it bake better!)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a half sheet pan with a silicone baking mat.

Pour the batter into the pan and spread it out evenly. Sprinkle the orange peel and cocoa nibs over the batter (I'm afraid I didn't keep accurate measure of how much I used – just enough so that the cake is pretty evenly covered, but you don't need to blanket the batter, or else there'll be too much add-ins and not enough cake! Just think of adding nuts to a cake batter – similar idea).

Sprinkle the baked streusel over the top of the cake.

Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes, rotating halfway. The top should be firm and lightly golden brown.

Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack before cutting. This is a fairly sturdy cake and should not fall apart or stick, but if you're going to store it, it might be easier to cut into smaller pieces and store them in an airtight container layered between parchment paper.


makes about 1 1/2 cups

1/3 cup (75 g) light brown sugar

1/3 cup (75 g) almond meal

1/4 cup (68 g) cake flour

1/4 teaspoon (0.5 g) salt

1/3 cup (75 g) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes

 Combine all ingredients except butter in a food processor until finely ground and combined.

Add butter and process just until the streusel starts to come together into lumps.

If the mixture seems very soft, refrigerate for about an hour to firm up.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat.

Spread streusel evenly over the sheet. Bake for about 6-8 minutes, until it is golden brown and baked all the way through.

Crumble into smaller pieces as necessary for sprinkling.

Almond Mousseux

makes one 8×8 square, about 25 pieces

This is basically a frozen mousse. It helps if you have a cake pan with a removable bottom – then it's easy to push the mousseux out from the bottom and cut into pieces. Otherwise, the mousseux will be frozen into the pan and you'll have to cut it out piece by piece.

1/2 cup (125 g) almond paste (Valrhona recommends their 70% paste, you may have to add sugar or use less paste depending on strength of flavor)

1 1/3 cups (300 g) whole milk

1/2 tablespoon (6.5 g) gelatin

1 cup (250 g) whipping cream

Process almond paste in a food processor until it is soft and pliable.

Add in milk and process until combined and smooth (You may have to do this in batches if your food processor is small). Alternatively, combine in a large bowl with a hand blender.

Combine gelatin with just enough water in a cup to let it bloom.

Heat about 1 cup of the almond milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Add in the gelatin and swirl pan until it is fully melted and incorporated.

Pour heated milk back into main milk mixture and mix to combine. Let mixture cool to about room temperature.

While you are waiting, whip the whipping cream in a mixer to soft peaks.

Fold the whipped cream into the almond milk.

Pour the mixture into an 8"x8" pan with removable bottom and freeze overnight. Note: After it sets, you can store it in the freezer.

Valrhona Orizaba Lacteé Namelaka

makes about 3/4 cup

This recipe uses Valrhona Orizaba Lacteé 40%, but you can use another milk chocolate if you like. Also, one important tip is that in order for the whole mixture to set up properly, you should pour out in a thin even layer, so a wide shallow pan works better than a tall narrow container (if it's too deep the center won't set). I used a 9 x 13 pan and it worked well.

3/4 cup (200 g) whole milk

3/4 tablespoon (10 g) corn syrup

1 teaspoon (4.5 g) gelatin

13 ounces (375 g) milk chocolate

1 3/4 cups (400 g) whipping cream

Melt chocolate in a double boiler or in a metal bowl placed over a pan of simmering water.

Add corn syrup to melted chocolate and stir to combine.

Combine gelatin with just enough water in a cup to let it bloom.

Heat milk in a saucepan to boiling. Add in the gelatin and swirl pan until it is fully melted and incorporated.

Pour the milk mixture over the melted chocolate in increments, stirring to combine and emulsify each time. It's important to combine the two mixtures slowly and make sure they are fully incorporated or the texture won't be right.

Process the mixture with a hand blender to ensure smoothness.

Pour mixture into a shallow pan and refrigerate overnight to let set.

To assemble the dessert:

Take out the mousseux and namelaka. If they have been sitting in the refrigerator a while, they may need a little time to warm up and soften. However, don't leave them out too long or they'll melt.

Cut the sponge into 2 1/2" square pieces.

Cut the mousseux into roughly 1 1/2" square pieces. Place one cube of mousseux on top of each sponge.

Scoop the namelaka into a piping bag fitted with a round tip. If it seems firm, or chunky in the texture, place in a food processor and process to soften up. Pipe a big drop of namelaka on top of the mousseux.

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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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