Sunday, October 30, 2011

Financiers. The yummy alternative for the 99%

Rejecting Wall Street? Eat yummy financiers instead.

The dense, very nutty flavor of these makes them one of my favorite French recipes. It also means I am not sure how to classify them.

This recipe, which is unique in part because it uses honey, comes from a video I recently found from a very cute French chef who, unfortunately, has since closed down his little cafe on the Ile de France to find "new adventures." oo la.

Here is the video if you'd like to see the method, or just brush up on your french, or simply watch cute french chefs at work. And here is the translation.

100g or between 1/2 and 1/3c butter
100g or 1 cup confectioners sugar
40g or 1/3c flour (I like the nutty flavor of alternative flours, such as whole wheat or country blends)
40g or 1/3c almond powder
50g or about 1/5 c of honey
3 egg whites
a pinch of salt (not sea salt!)

Note: You'll notice the guy in the video uses only a whisk for all of the steps listed below. Stick it to the man and tell him that people were cooking long before they had a kitchen appliance for each possible movement of the hand.

1. Put the butter on the stove in a small pot and heat it "au noisette," which means (as far as I have understood it) over a medium flame until it starts to take some brownish color, but not burned!! My guess is that this gives it a nice nutty flavor, but I am yet to confirm it.

2. Mix the sugar, almond powder and flour

3. Sprinkle a pinch of salt on the egg whites and beat them well, but not quite "en neige," which is when they start to fluff up into a foam for mousse or other fluffy deserts. The pinch of salt will help them fluff a little, instead of just becoming the well-beat eggs you would use in an omelet.

4. Whip 2&3 vigorously and add the the honey. Without letting up whipping all of the above, pour in the melted butter. As the butter is hot, and there are raw eggs in the mixture, if you pour it in without stirring, you'll get lovely scrambled eggs in your delicate french desert

5. Leave all this in the fridge for 3-4 hours so it will thicken and be much easier to put in the molds. I have not dared to test this method to see if it is simply easier to get them in molds, or actually helps the recipe... in any case, its convenient for inviting guests!

6. Spoon the batter into a plastic bag, cut off the tip and squeeze it into your molds. You can use almost any size or shape, but you might have to adjust the cooking time. The mold in the movie is meant to give tiny versions that he can serve with coffee, which is usually served after desert in the scheme of courses of french cooking. Mine were in muffin sized, oval silicone molds. Silicone is highly recommended. Probably you should butter the mold if not.

7. Bake for 12 minutes at 185ºC/365ºF

8. Let cool for 5-10 minutes in the molds, then gently remove and serve. I actually liked them better the second day because they have a very dense, nutty flavor that seems to melt into itself.

yields 30 tiny financiers, 8 of these large muffin sized financiers, or whatever. Note: If you're using a metal cupcake pan and there are unfilled sections, fill each empty spot about half way with water. This keeps the temperature of the pan even and the can often do nice things to your baked goods! Its the secret to crunchy-outside-soft-inside bread!

Happy Birthday Karen!
Also pictured here are brownies from the Smitten Kitchen, which is by far the most wonderful food blog I've ever seen, and a "Real Proper Custard" recipe from the BBC that I found to use the 3 egg yolks I had left over from this financier recipe... I suggest upping the sugar to 50g and eating it cold the next day!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fine, Fluffy Muffins: build your own, as healthy as you like!

Muffins have a lot of history, and a lot more chemistry going on! And this is only my second batch, so I'm sure there are improvements to make, but this balance of the basic "muffin making" ingredients has done beautifully in the chemistry of rising a fine, fluffy muffin. There are a lot of substitution options included below, in part because one thing I really hate is a recipe with a long list of ingredients, and lacking one. Or what I hate even more, going and spending a bunch of money just to complete a recipe. Screw that. Substitute!

The build-your-own ingredients are at the bottom so that you can have as healthy (or not) a variety as you choose! Do leave me notes with what works (or not) for you! Muffins are tricky little (sweet) bastards, so I welcome any chance to improve!

Made 16 medium sized muffins in a silicone pan

Note: Read the optional ingredients before starting! I noted where to add them for each one!
Dry ingredients:
2 cups, or 240g flour in total, which you can divide into white and whole wheat (or any other variety) as you like
~ I have this nice country mix at the moment, which already has a light enough consistency to bake on its own, so I used very little white flour, but if you have straight up whole wheat, I would go half and half with white, unless you like that dense wheaty flavor of heavy whole wheat! (I do!)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbs cinnamon
*plus the optional dry ingredients of your choice. See below.

Wet ingredients:
70g, or 1/3 cup butter
between 1/2 and 1c or between 100 and 200g crystal sugar (white, or "raw" brown sugar)
~I used less, about 60g, and it was still quite yummy. In fact, with the sugar sprinkled and baked on top, you can make the recipe a lot less sugary and it still has a great sweet taste!

50g, or about 1/3c apple sauce
little less than 1c honey, or 1/2 cup brown sugar (of the American variety)
about 1 cup yogurt or buttermilk (I had some goat cheese half way through processing and no yogurt or buttermilk, so I threw it in and it worked quite well! ...leading me to the belief that most fermented goods, perhaps even milk? will work well.)

Brown sugar for sprinkling on top (notice this is not in the optional category. In fact, its Mandatory!)

Build your own options:
(I suggest all of them, except the egg, which really just didn't seem necessary!)
1. 1/2 - 3/4c, or about 50g oats, stirred into the dry ingredients
2. a handful of almond powder in the dry ingredients (makes everything better)
3. 1 egg whipped into the wet mixture after the sugar
4. nuts, stirred into the dry ingredients, about 1 cup, or a good handful. I suggest walnuts!
5. up to 2 apples, cubed, stirred into the dry ingredients. Big chunks give a great texture!!
6. replace the butter with vegetable oil or apple sauce
7. honey can be replaced with white (or brown?) sugar. Come to think of it, the three are interchangeable.

1. Take out the butter, cut it into little cubes, and leave it out for 30 minutes before cooking with it. (not yet sure if this is really necessary, but all my french cookbooks call for it)

2.Mix the dry ingredients

3. Preheat oven to 450ºF, or 230ºC

4. Cream the butter with the sugar. Meaning, whip till creamy. (whip in your egg here, if you're using it)

5. Stir in honey, applesauce, (or the optional vegetable oil) until homogeneous.

6. Pour all the wet ingredients into the dry and fold in. This means stir gently with a wooden spoon, fork, etc., just until all is incorporated. Overstirring is the easiest way to kill your fluffy muffins (poor things) and have them turn into tough, bready chunks. Instead, stop just as soon as there are not huge wads of dry flour left. Its even okay if there are a couple dry spots in the dough, they get moistened in the baking.

7. Sprinkle generously with brown sugar, wiping off any that spills onto the pan between muffins. That sugar will burn and you will panic thinking you've ruined your muffins, pulling them out prematurely. Sad. DONT SKIP THIS STEP if you are a pastry loving fool, or even feel a slight affection for your muffins.

8. Transfer to your muffin molds. I have an oval shaped silicone muffin pan, which works great because there is no buttering needed. But if you are using a traditional pan, definitely butter them. Even if you are using paper cups, I've read online baking sites tests that say buttering the paper cups is good... I suggest a quality silicone (make sure it can go as high as 280ºC/530ºF or it is cheap silicone that supposedly seeps toxins into your otherwise beautiful muffins)

9. Bake at 450ºF/230ºC for 10 to 12 minutes, then turn the heat down to 400ºF/205ºC for another 5. You know they're done when a toothpick poked in the middle comes out dry.

10. Cool a few minutes in the try, then till cool on a wire rack (I use the tray from my oven... pulled out before its hot, of course)

Random tips:
*stirring fruit into the floured dry mix coats them and keeps them from sinking to the bottom of your baked goods. This recipe is so thick, and stays in the oven such a short period of time, it won't really matter, but this is especially helpful for cakes, etc. where the dough is much thinner.

**Why both baking soda AND baking powder?
In french baking powder is called "chemical leavener," and in researching the difference, I found a wonderful site on the history of baking cakes, and another on the history of muffins in the US and England. SO: it seems that baking soda (bicarbonate) and eggs have been the leavener of choice for a whole lot longer, and baking POWDER was a product of the industrial revolutions ("oooh, look at all the cool things these new chemicals can do!"). With the advent of the baking powder, cakes and muffins became higher, fluffier, and generally more deserty and delicate as we know them. Technically, just substituting baking soda would do the same leavening, but it is very basic, and die-hard bakers believe you should always maintain a very strict balance between acid and basic in recipes... meh. I've read you can simply mix baking soda with cream of tartar

***Why the dry ingredients and the wet? aka: Why should I stir it so little?
For muffins, pancakes, and... I dont actually know what else, one of the best ways to ruin them is to overmix the bater, which gives it a "kneaded" consistency. Kneading is meant to help develop the gluten strands, giving it that stretchy, firm texture which then holds in the gas created by the yeast. This is not what we want in these delicate baked goods. So STIR THESE PASTRIES AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE. Just until there is not too much dry flour floating around. (even that is not so bad, it will get mixed in as it cooks.

****Why cream the butter with the sugar?
In that same history of baking cakes, I learned that early cakes were made fluffy by vigorously whipping the butter with the crystal sugar, which cut little holes in the butter! These little holes filled with air and expanded with baking, making it all lighter and fluffier. All these little details seem to combine for finer baking, though I've skipped one or two of the details in any given recipe and it still seems to do okay.

Good Science of Baking reads:

On the history of Cake Baking

Honestly, just google "history muffins" and you get some awesome quick histories about the movement of muffins from England, where they were breads, to America where they became "quick breads" with leaveners

Other great muffins - many of which inspired this one (especially the first)

I am in love with this woman. This recipe is basically an altered version of her Whole Wheat Apple Muffins, which I chose because I like her simplicity. She requires muffin recipes to require no more than 2 bowls!

Vegan Dad bakes beautifully with no animal products, and has wonderful spicing and substituting ideas!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tarte d'oignon

You, too, can savor sauteed onions with cooked cream in a buttery pie crust. Just pretend you're french and call it dinner.


1 pie crust: pâte brisée
2 HUGE sweet onions, or 3 smaller ones (500g)
~maybe yellow or white onions would work?
1 Shallot - optional
2 Tbs or more butter for sautéing

2 tablespoons of flour
about a cup of milk (I will go less next time)
1/2 cup of cream (again, I will go way less next time, but hey, thats a french recipe for you!)
salt and pepper

optional: grated cheese for toping - a hard white cheese is recommended, like swiss or gruyère

1. Make your crust. I tried a number of fancy recipes recently, but I came back to the fairly simple recipe I posted and linked above from my host mom Estelle. Roll it out, put it in your tart pan (I am using a square silicone cake pan... seems to work fine to me!) Use a fork to punch holes in the bottom and throw it in the oven for about 15 minutes at 180ºC/355ºF

2. Meanwhile, slice all of your onions - and your shallot! not necessary, but its as ubiquitous in French cooking as garlic is in ours, and it really does good things to any savory recipe - into fairly thin rings and turn your heavy bottomed metal pot on a medium high heat.

3. Once its hot, throw in the butter and the onion rings and stir every 2-3 minutes until there is lots of nice browning and the onions have gone limp. Sprinkle the flour over top, stir in and cook for another couple minutes. Then, pour in the milk and the cream, just a big splash at a time, and using your wooden spoon to rub some of the yummy brown off the bottom of the pan. Stop adding the milk/cream when it is as creamy as you'd like it. You can leave it on the heat until it is the thickness you'd like. Salt and pepper.

*probably, the milk is completely optional...

4. Pour the onions into the cooked crust, pour grated cheese over top if you're using it, and pop it back in the oven for about 30 minutes.

Really, seriously a rich dinner. Salad goes nicely with...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Vanilla Sugar

Vanilla sugar is a fairly common ingredient in baked goods in almost every country's cuisine I've heard of, other than the US. SO, this is both an easy way to get an ingredient that you wouldn't necessarily be able to find at home, and more importantly, it makes every recipe more delicious...

C'est simple. Keep a jar of sugar in your cabinet (I mixed raw sugar and white sugar... for no good reason) and every time you finish using a stick of vanilla in a recipe rinse it, let it dry a spell, and stick it into the jar. You can even shred them for good measure. The sugar soaks up the flavor. Voilà. Substitute 10g (a few tablespoons) in every dish you bake (or all of it if you really want a flavor boost), and it adds a nice layer of flavor.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Crème Vanille

Kind of a re-post, as the recipe is almost the same as crème chocolat and crème caramel... but "same same but different," no? Besides, its the details that make a recipe good.

1/2 liter milk
80g vanilla sugar
(use regular sugar if you must, but the more vanilla you pack in, the richer the flavor!)
1 stick of vanilla
1 heaping tsp corn starch
1 egg

~makes 4 servings~

*Slice the vanilla stick in half lengthwise and scrape the vanilla grains into the milk (these grains are what give french vanilla ice cream, for example, those little black specks. Personally, I'm not a fan of the ice cream, but it makes such a better flavor than vanilla concentrate!)

*Add the sugar to the milk and throw in the stick of vanilla that you just scraped. Heat this just enough to dissolve the sugar.

*Cool the milk. Whisk together the corn starch and the egg until there are no lumps

*While continuously whisking the egg mixture, add the milk mixture, pour in a small splash of the milk mixture. If this doesn't leave lumps you can continue to add the milk, a splash at a time until the color is more white than yellow. This is meant to bring the egg up to the temperature of the milk without cooking the egg, leaving scrambled-egg looking lumps in your crème.

*Once all the milk is added, put the entire mixture back over a medium heat and continue to whisk gently. At this point the crème feels more like milk as you stir, giving easily and even splashing. Over the next 5-10 minutes there will be a slow but very noticeable thickening of the mixture into a crème.

*When a wooden spoon dipped into the crème comes out with a coating on it, and when running your finger over this coating leaves a clearly defined track, it is well thickened. Of course, you can leave it on the heat more or less as you like, but it will start to lump if you leave it for too long.

*Pour into serving containers (individual cups, or one big bowl, as you like) and let cool to room temperature before moving to the refrigerator to set.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tofu - recipe #2

Softer. Thats the word that designates this from the first. The process included 18 hours in the fromagerie (cheese maker) which keeps it at a warmer temperature (its this difference in temp that designates cheese from yogurt, by the way). The end result was smoother, much softer tofu with a lighter white color. I went ahead and drained the tofu to see how "firm" it would get, but I think that was a mistake. Seeing as it never really got firm, I am not sure what to do with it. It would dissipate in a soup, wouldn't hold together to stir fry, and isn't a nice enough texture to eat alone.

Conclusion: this process would be perfect if you stop after the aging, sprinkle it with sugar, and eat it as the soft "brain tofu" desert we used to eat in China.

The other lesson: your choice of soymilk is important. If you dont like the flavor of the drink, you won't like the flavor of the tofu.

To make:

Heat 1/2 liter of soy milk to just warmer than warm. Dissolve one heaping tsp of Nigari in 4 tsp of water, stir into the soymilk, and pour it all into the filters that come in the fromagerie (if you don't know what I'm talking about, don't worry about it. It will be clear if you take the plunge with the fromagerie).
Set it to 18 hours on the cheese setting and do whatever it is you do for the 18 hours of the day that you are not making tofu.

Gently remove the filters from their cups, and you will see a whey left behind that is so clear that it looks like water, and a very, very soft tofu inside the filters. This was really where I saw the difference between the two tofus; the whey of the first, faster version retains a yellowish coloring and isn't completely clear. This time there was a complete separation of whey and tofu, meaning there was a much cleaner whey and a lot more tofu!

Place the filters on a plate (it will continue to drain, so the plate is to keep you from having a huge mess on your counter) and let sit for 30 minutes. Drain as much as you'd like through a cheese cloth, but I would suggest just letting it gently strain on its own, without too much squeezing to allow it to keep the soft, jelly texture. Sprinkle with sugar or find some other cool use and tell me about it! I need ideas!

Theory: this would be of great use in vegan recipes because of its texture...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Yogurt: Crème de Marron and Yogurt Tatin

Last week I finally broke down and bought a cuisinart yogurt maker and fromagerie (cheese maker)!!!! Begin frantic cooking.

The recipe for making yogurt at home stays pretty constant, though you have your choice of starters ranging from one cup of industrial yogurt to packets of powdered "yogurt starter." ...and then there are your thickeners, which vary from powdered milk to rennet or magnesium clorate (ide?) to absolutely nothing. But the recipe remains: sterilized milk, a starter stirred in, keep warm for about 8 hours, refrigerate.

But that simple line "keep warm for about 8 hours" can be a pain. I've tried wrapping the bowls in towels, heating pads, leaving the pots in the oven with only the pilot light on. I find them all fairly troublesome, especially when there are appliances that will do it for you. They are available for as cheap as ten bucks, but I opted for the nicer cuisinart because it has a probe to keep a constant temperature AND I can now make various soft cheeses!

The cooked-and-caramelized apples in this recipe are generally considered "apple pie" in the US and "tatin" here in France. Basically it is the same simmer-butter-and-apples, add-sugar-to-caramelize process, but with different crusts and reputations in the two countries. In the US its "down home" or "classic" american, while here it is almost gourmet. Heaven in a crepe... Either way, learning to make the simple basic recipe is SO useful because it can be thrown into so many different desert crusts, cakes, or simply thrown in with yogurt or whipped cream.

The Crème de Marron is another French specialty that these days, most people buy in cans. Marron is actually chestnuts, so this is a sweet paste of chestnuts, and yes, you really can roast them on an open fire. But oh do I suggest making this confection instead. The best part is you can preserve it like jelly etc., and have a year long supply! Thats my plan, but this was just from the first batch, so the blog post will come with the next round. sorry :)

So here we go: this is the recipe that fills my 6 125ml yogurt pots. Increase or decrease to fit what you are using!
The Caramelized Apples
makes just enough to cover the bottom of 2 or 3 yogurt cups. multiply as you like.

1 apple
1 generous pad of butter
about 1/3 cup sugar, brown preferred (it doesn't burn as easily)
a packet of vanilla sugar
dash of cinnamon

*The vanilla sugar is not necessary, but its a great addition to many desert recipes. If they don't sell it where you are you can make it yourself simply by keeping a separate jar of sugar in the pantry with a stick of vanilla in it. You end up with vanilla flavored sugar, which is great for absolutely anything you can think of. Coffee and cakes included.

1. peel and cut up the apple and put it in a pot over medium high heat with the butter. The apple will start to cook down after a few minutes, softening

2. sprinkle sugar over top (including vanilla sugar) and stir in, watching carefully after this point so that you don't burn the sugar. Not only does it stink if you burn it, it sucks to clean. Add the cinnamon. The sugar will start to "blond," which means it is caramelizing

*NOTE: the more sugar you add, the more caramel you will have with your apples. Also, I choose not to use it, but some corn syrup will help keep it soft and gooey and not burnt.

3. at this point, it takes more experience than actual directions to know when it is done (I am sadly not quite adept at this, yet, and often burn my caramel... oh well) but it seems to go a lot smoother with the butter and apples than plain caramel does. The apples will start to puff up and make a slight whining sound like when you sautée potatoes and the inside will soften.

4. when you deem the sugar duly caramelized, the apples duly cooked, and the flavors properly melded, its done! This took about 10 or 15 minutes for my one apple.

Crème de Marron: post coming soon.

Pots of Yogurt

My yogurt maker has 6 pots that come with it, so I put a scoop of the caramelized apples in each of 3, and crème de marron in the other 3.

The yogurt, I must say, is extremely simple once you get the method.

1/2 liter of UHT milk
1 cup of previously made yogurt, homemade or bought
sweetener of choice; I used a couple spoonfuls of sweetened condensed milk
firming agent of choice (not necessary, read online for options. The easiest is a bit of powdered milk or a couple drops of rennet)

NOTE: a quick word on the milk choice. At first I was upset that they didn't have much fresh milk here in France for making yogurt, but it turns out UHT milk is WAY easier. Fresh milk you have to heat to almost boiling to sterilize, and make sure to sterilize all your utensils as well. In addition, it is more prone to leaving pockets of whey in the yogurt and a skin on top.

UHT milk you can buy and use at room temperature with no heating or cooking involved, skipping all of the sterilization, and the product is often more firm! Plus no grose skin on top.

Stir. Pour in the pots, on top of the marron and tatin, place in yogurt maker (or warm oven etc.) for 8 hours. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before eating as they will continue to firm.