Petits gâteaux basquaises

If you are into French pastry traditions, you may have heard about the Gâteau Basque. It’s a regional desert from southwest France consisting of a slightly crunchy, buttery, dense, crusted cake with a fruit (and sometimes custard) filling in the middle. The most common filling is a layer of cooked cherries, but other fruits are possible (such as prunes). Well, as usual, I needed to find an application for unused ingredients from a previous recipe. So, here is my experiment and variation on a theme. The gâteau becomes petits gâteaux. The “basque” becomes “basquaises” – much like my biscuits arabesques. I learned from this experiment, and so can you. Spoiler alert: Learning from an experiment usually means that something went wrong.

Petits gâteaux – muffin-size cakes

Overall process

These little cakes have two (or three) components, the crust (for lack of a better term since it’s not exactly like a muffin or a cake or a pie) and the filling. Make the filling first. Whatever filling or fillings you decide to include, they will need time to cool and come to room temperature. It’s important that they be at room temperature when putting it all together. Too cool and you risk an expansion that could erupt. While the fillings are cooling you have plenty of time to make the batter.

Creamy orange date filling

I used the date filling that was in the center of some of my biscuits arabesques. To it, I added finely diced candied orange peels (brunoise) and the last of the orange poaching syrup. This filling is delicious and could be still enhanced by the inclusion of Grand Marnier.

  • 1 kg dates (pitted)
  • 200 gm cream cheese
  • 50 gm powdered sugar
  • 9 gm ground nutmeg
  • Candied orange peel of one whole orange
  • 50 ml orange syrup
  • 25 ml orange blossom water

Place all of these ingredients in a food processor and turn it loose until you arrive at a homogeneous paste. The consistency of this paste will be very important. You will need to be able to pipe it into the center of a pastry ring but it should hold its shape and not flow.

Creamy orange date filling

Gâteau basque recipe

You can find a variety of recipes for the gateau basque batter on the web. I chose the following because it can be piped into a pastry ring. This recipe is from Bruno Albouze.

 250 g Butter, room temp

 4 g Salt

 180 g Brown sugar

 2.50 g Vanilla paste

 125 g Almond meal

 150 g Eggs

 280 g Pastry flour

4 g Baking powder

As per Chef Albouze’ instructions, this batter is sufficient for a 9” / 23 cm cake pan or pastry ring yielding 8 slices. I used 6 muffin-size pastry rings at 2” high. There was still a bit left over.

Spoiler reveal

I succeeded and failed at my experiment. How? I succeeded in making very good minis-gâteaux in the small pastry rings. The pastry itself cooked very well and was beautiful. However, I failed to make a delightful desert for one reason. I seriously under-filled the pastry. The filling is absolutely delicious but I should have used three times the amount in each gâteau. This batter dries considerably when baked. It needs plenty of filling to create a delightful experience.

Watch the video to see how I filled the rings. You will see how my skills need to improve but how “it worked”.

Montage: putting it all together in pastry rings
Creamy date orange filling. More filling would was needed.

Future corrections

A matter of proportions. To make a moist, flavorful and interesting petit gâteau basque in the future, use the following guide: 2/3 pastry to 1/3 filling by weight. Example: A 90 g petit gâteau would have 60g pastry batter / 30 g filling; 120 g would have 80 g pastry to 40 g filling.

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Totally Nutty Chocolate Spread

I bought some peanuts the other day, wanting to make some peanut butter. However, as I was rummaging through the cupboard, I saw that I had some hazelnuts and almonds as well. Then I stumbled upon some chocolate bars and my mind quickly turned to Nutella. Of course Nutella has no peanuts, but a similar nut spread, Gianduja spread does.

Peanut, almond and hazelnut praline.

The recipe for this “Totally Nutty Chocolate Spread” is more simple than either Nutella or the Gianduja referenced above. Nothing gets masked in this recipe. The flavors are bold and straightforward. If you like dark roasted coffee, you’re gonna like this intense nutty chocolate spread on a piece of toast with your Java in the morning.

Ingredients

  • 200 g dark chocolate (72%)
  • 150 g milk chocolate (35%)
  • 250 g toasted peanuts
  • 150 g toasted almonds
  • 100 g toasted hazelnuts
  • 250 g granulated sugar
  • 2 pinches of sea salt (to make flavors pop, especially if you reserve some of the praline)
  • OPTIONAL: The addition of vanilla and/or cinnamon would work well in this.

Method

1. Pour the sugar into a dry skillet (non-stick if possible) over medium high heat. Do not disturb the sugar until it has begun to melt and change to an amber color below the surface. You are making a dry caramel. Because you have so much sugar in the pan, you will now need to turn down the heat a bit and begin moving the pan and lightly stirring the caramelizing sugar so he it doesn’t burn on the bottom and the surface sugar can melt too. Ideally all the sugar would be melted and amber before adding the nuts. I didn’t wait that long as I was afraid of burning the sugar. RULE: Never leave caramelizing sugar unattended.

2. Add all of the nuts and work them down into the liquid sugar. This will cause the temperature of the sugar to drop and the mixture will show signs of hardening. Work quickly but with small movements to coat all of the nuts. Add a couple pinches of salt at this point. NOTE: You do not want the mixture to stiffen in the pan. You will need to keep it pliable by raising the heat slightly and/or moving the pan off and onto the heat as you stir.

3. When thoroughly combined move quickly to pour it onto a silicone mat or parchment paper and work with a spatula to flatten it out. The mixture with stiffen quickly. You’ll need to work quickly. Still, it doesn’t have to be perfect for our purposes here. Let the mixture cool. You have made praline.

4. Melt the chocolate. Your choice of methods – double boiler or microwave. I chose the microwave. Break the chocolate bars into chunks to facilitate easier, faster melting. Go for 30 second bursts, then stir. Repeat until completely melted.

5. Time for “Robocop” – my name for my amazing food processor (some days I think of it as Wolverine). Break up the praline into chucks that the food processor can handle and let it run until a moist, sandy mixture forms. Add all of the melted chocolate and repeat. This recipe makes a grainy paste, easy to spoon and spread but not fluid. You have made “Totally Nutty Chocolate Spread.”

Enjoy on toast or crackers with a cup of coffee or tea. As you can almost see in the photo below, I reached for an espresso. In its own way, this snack made for a double shot.

10 AM Booster shot: chocolate nut spread, a bite of praline, a dose of espresso.

Je vous souhaite une belle journée.

May you have a beautiful day.

Biscuits arabesques

“arabesque”: decorative style, of Arabic or middle eastern inspiration

The “look” of these cookies was not exactly what I was going for. But the flavor…… I need to give these to friends asap or I’ll eat them all by this evening. These cookies are delicious.

WARNING: Despite my motivation for baking these, they are NOT “ma’moul”. They are a blend of Greek and Lebanese influences.

What about that “look”? I had been wanting to make a Lebanese cookie called “maamoul” for quite some time. You can shape them in the palm of your hand and then use a fork to create decorative patterns on the surface, or you can use small wooden molds (see below) for a more spectacular look.

I searched for months to find mamoul molds like those pictured above and found them in a shisha shop (of all places), but, alas, my molds are now in France and I am not. So… so…. what to do? I wanted to make these cookies and I was not confident that I could make them in my hand. “Aha!”, I thought. I’ve got some interesting molds that I could use to make a filled cookie.

As you can see in the photo above, I ended up using a mold AND making a few by hand. In the end, I learned that making them by hand was not as difficult as I had thought. Still, when I get back to France, I want to put those wooden molds to use.

What about that flavor? You’ll see and read the details below, but, just to say, clove, cinnamon and orange blossom water will put you in a dream state – and the only risk is caloric.

THE PROCESS IN A NUTSHEELL

  • Make cookie dough (reserve in fridge)
  • Make date filling
  • Make walnut filling
  • Make date filling balls rolled in pistachio powder
  • Make cookie dough balls
  • Assemble
  • Bake at 350 F / 190 C for 12 minutes and begin checking for light golden doneness.

COOKIE DOUGH

The recipe for the cookie dough in this blog comes from Dimitra’s Dishes. This Greek dough is lighter and more fragile than other doughs in this middle eastern cookie tradition. (US measurements from Dimitra. I did the metric conversions.)

  • ½ pound (227 gm) unsalted butter softened
  • 1 tablespoon (12 gm) granulated sugar
  • ½ cup confectioner’s sugar (110 gm) (NOTE: I believe that the super light texture of this dough comes from this ingredient).
  • 2 egg yolks (100 gm)
  • 2 teaspoons (10 gm) pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (250 gm) all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt (<2gm)
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder (2 gm)
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest (NOTE: I didn’t have any oranges in the house. I added 1 tablespoon of orange blossom water……… an addition that fills your senses every time you start to take a bite. Use this ingredient if you can.)
Mise en place
Be careful when using a hand mixer. It is more difficult to control the speed than with a stand mixer. Too fast can produce a tougher dough. I thought of working in the dough with a spatula but didn’t want to push the air out of the mixture.

CREAMY DATE FILLING (The following recipe makes enough filling for several batches of cookies or other deserts; keeps very well in the fridge.)

  • 1 kg dates (pitted`)
  • 200 gm cream cheese (not a traditional ingredient)
  • 50 gm powdered sugar
  • 9 gm ground nutmeg

I had a block of dates that I had to pit and then place in a food processor to create the paste. TIP: Lightly oil the blade and bowl of the processor before beginning. The dates are a bit tough and sticky. Then 1) process the dates into a sticky mass, 2) add the other ingredients and process until well combined and smooth. You may need to pulse, scrape the sides and pulse until you are satisfied with the texture. NOTE: The cream cheese is not a traditional ingredient in these cookies. I added it because I wanted a filling that I could pipe into other deserts as well. To counter act the tanginess of the cheese, I also added the powdered sugar to keep the sweet kick kicking. It worked well and tastes wonderful.

SPICY WALNUT FILLING (from Dimitra’s Dishes with a couple modifications)

  • 125 grams ground walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon ( 3 gm) ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon (about 1 gm) ground cloves
  • 2-3 tablespoons (app 7 gm) powdered sugar (Dimitra uses granulated sugar)
  • 2 tablespoons orange blossom water (Dimitra suggests water or rose water)
  • SPOILER: I also added a slurpy tablespoon full of some leftover sweet elixir from some orange confit that was in the fridge. It seemed like a good thing to do. It had a little butter in it too. I think some crêpes suzettes was in its history.

ASSEMBLY REQUIRED

AFTER OVEN

Le pain au levain fait main/ Handmade sourdough bread

Added a couple of videos to show mixing and shaping the bread by hand.

Le Four de Sainte Anne à Chez Bonneau

First bread baked in the oven of Sainte Anne since before COVID-19.

I have hesitated all summer long to bake a load of bread in our precious oven. For one, I haven’t baked in it since the summer of 2019. I have heated it up a few times with small fires just to “season” the bricks but not wanting to shock them with a full-blown fire of 250 degrees Celsius. To heat up the oven is a commitment of resources that one should never waste – mainly wheat and wood. I finally pushed myself to get going again though still in a smaller way than will become the norm. I made 10 loaves of approximately 1 kilo each – enough to justify getting back “online” but not too much in case the bread didn’t turn out as hoped for.

Le pétrin – placed in line with the morning sun to…

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Le pain au levain fait main/ Handmade sourdough bread

First bread baked in the oven of Sainte Anne since before COVID-19.

I have hesitated all summer long to bake a load of bread in our precious oven. For one, I haven’t baked in it since the summer of 2019. I have heated it up a few times with small fires just to “season” the bricks but not wanting to shock them with a full-blown fire of 250 degrees Celsius. To heat up the oven is a commitment of resources that one should never waste – mainly wheat and wood. I finally pushed myself to get going again though still in a smaller way than will become the norm. I made 10 loaves of approximately 1 kilo each – enough to justify getting back “online” but not too much in case the bread didn’t turn out as hoped for.

Le pétrin – placed in line with the morning sun to help warm it. I can make 50 kilos of bread at a time in this pétrin.

I got up at 3:45 AM to get my levain started. I had been experimenting with different flours for the leaven over the summer and had a lot of poor results. I keep some very dense sourdough starter in the fridge and have no real difficulty waking it up. It usually takes me about 5-6 hours for the starter to bring the leaven to full bloom, ready to make bread. I made 1 kilo of leaven for this batch of 10 loaves.

Top: 3.25 liters of water with 80 gm sea salt. Middle: 5 kilos bread flour with seeds. Bottom: 1 kg of leaven.

Time to mix it up.

Once the ingredients are mixed together in an homogenous, lumpy, sticky mass, give it a few gentle pats, cover with a towel and let rest for about 40 minutes. Now, the rest of my day is planned:

  • 4:00 AM prepare the leaven, go back to sleep
  • 9:30 AM Leaven is ready. Measure flour, salt, warm water
  • 9:45 AM mix dough, let rest 40 minutes
  • 10:30 AM turn and stretch the dough
  • 11 AM turn and stretch the dough
  • 11:30 AM turn and stretch the dough
  • 12:00 PM turn and stretch the dough
  • 1:00 PM turn and stretch the dough
  • 2:00 PM turn and stretch the dough
  • 3:00 PM divide the dough into 1 kg portions and shape the dough into tight balls. Place in individual baskets and cover with a towel. If the outer skin holds the tension during this process, then the dough should be strong enough to hold together as it continues to ferment and expand.
  • Prepare the wood-fired oven during the bread’s final fermentation. It takes about 3 hours to bring our 2 meter diameter oven up to temp. When the soot from the burning wood falls off of the bricks and the oven is clean again, remove all wood and embers, and clean the floor of the oven with a very wet towel. This hydrates the oven to prevent the crust from forming too early which allow more moisture to escape the dough. Once this is done, close the oven door for a few minutes to allow the heat to distribute evenly.
  • 6:30 PM If the bread has done its job and doubled in volume and is ready for the oven.
  • 6:30-7:30 PM Baking bread. One hour should be enough. However, test a loaf to see if it’s ready or not. I tested this load of bread and they were not ready. I left them in for another 30 minutes. AS IT TURNS OUT, I hadn’t closed the oven door really well and I lost some heat. In the end, the bread came out nicely cooked through and through.
  • 8:00 PM Put the bread in a safe place and wait til morning to enjoy it.
Sourdough, butter, honey. What a beautiful day. Merci, Dieu.

Lasagna with beef and béchamel – Slow Food heaven.

Traditional lasagna – slow food heaven!

Make this dish for someone you love. If you can, make it with someone you love. Plan ahead. Don’t do this in a rush. So many recipes on the Internet catch our attention with titles that say, “easy”, “quick”, “in less than an hour.” Throw those quick and easy ideas to the wind and embrace the slow, rewarding process of making something wonderful that can’t be done on the run. Then take the time to share this together. Tell the world to stop. Yes. Tell it to stop while you share this meal. You’ll be oh so glad you did.

My daughter and I slowly put this dish together over three days. Not that we had to or that we planned it that way. We just kept being busy with other chores and not having enough time to make this dish all at once and do it the way we wanted – making everything from scratch.

We all can get in a rush, have “so many things to do,” be too tired to cook, etc. But I’ve learned that such a busy life doesn’t mean we can’t do some things that require time and patience. Allz you need to do is look ahead and “do a bit right now,” and, “do a bit a little later.” That’s what we did with this luscious lasagna.

Timeline:

  • Sunday evening: Made a double batch of beef ragù – Mom’s recipe
    • for fettuccini Sunday evening (reserve leftover in the fridge)
    • for Lasagna… sometime later, not sure when, but soon-ish
  • Monday evening: Make the lasagna noodles……. let dry overnight
  • Tuesday morning – today’s the day !!!
    • 6:30 AM take the ragù from the fridge; adjust by adding bay leaves, red wine, a bit more salt. let simmer for 2.5 hours with uncovered lid
    • While the ragù is simmering, begin making grape jelly before the bees eat all of the grapes. 11:15 AM – make béchamel
    • 11:30 AM – Assemble the lasagne and put in the oven
    • Lunch at 1 PM

RECIPES AND PROCES

Handmade pasta

Ingredients for Pasta (For a medium-size lasagna)

  • 400 g AP Flour
  • 4 eggs + 1 egg yolk (for structure)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

Method: We did this in a large bowl just to keep things from getting too messy. We cracked and mixed the eggs in a separate bowl and then poured them into the flour. Mix by hand. Add oil as needed to respond to wet/dry ratio coming from egg size and flour quality. I have always found that using olive helps to create a wonderful pasta dough, easy to manage in a hand-crank machine, supple and sturdy.

RAGÙ – family recipe (not quite typical). No quantities are given here. My daughter was in charge of this while I was elsewhere. Truth be told, quantities are not very important. Follow you instincts and the size of your pot.

Ingredients for “our ragù” – It’s all about flavor and texture that pleases you.

  • ground beef
  • fresh tomatoes from the garden that needed to be used before going bad (blanched and peeled) and canned tomatoes (whole or diced)
  • tomato paste (no more than a tablespoon)
  • aubergines (diced)/ eggplant
  • mushrooms (your favorite ones; make it earthy)
  • basil, thyme, bay leaf (2 or3)
  • red wine (enough for body and flavor, not for volume)
  • salt …….. NO PEPPER (Can you believe that? No pepper? My daughter insisted. Results were amazing.)

Method: Begin on medium high heat.Brown the ground beef. Then add the diced eggplant and mushrooms. Allow these to loose water and soften. Then add the herbs and let them warm up. Next, get those tomatoes in there with all their juice. Lastly, heat the wine to get rid of the alcohol then add it to the mix. Turn the heat down LOW. Leave the LID OFF and allow the ragù to slowly melt together, thicken and bring the flavors together. Yes. Easily 2 hours. AS WE DID, this can be made 1 or 2 days in advance if that works best with your schedule. TEXTURE: This ragù was quite chunky. Great for spaghetti or tagliatelle, but not for a multilayered lasagna. So, I took an old fashioned potato masher and mashed big time. This allowed for thin, even layers of ragù between each layer of pasta.

BÉCHAMEL

Ingredients:

  • 35 g butter
  • 35 g AP flour
  • 1/2 liter (2 cups) milk
  • nutmeg (a very generous pinch)
  • salt to taste

Method:

Melt the butter the add the flour and stir using a whisk. Allow the mixture to bubble and to change a yellowish color, a minute or two. Begin pouring in milk a little bit a a time followed by vigorous whisking. Keep the sauce on the stove at a low heat, stirring occasionally, allowing it to thicken. When the sauces reaches an almost lumpy consistency, remove it from the fire and cover it until ready to use..

Assembly

  • Spray your container with oil
  • Cover the bottom of your container with a thin layer of ragù.
  • Then make the following repetitive layers until all ragù and béchamel is used.
    • pasta
    • ragù
    • béchamel
    • pasta, etc.
  • TOPPING – Be sparing with the sauce at each layer. Cover the pasta completely, but thinly. The top should receive a generous layer of béchamel PLUS some other melting cheese. Mozzarella is the most traditional choice. We didn’t have any on hand and substituted emmenthal and conté. It was wonderful.

BAKING: Place in an oven at 200 degree Celsius for 35-45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving.

Chausson aux poires (Pear turnovers)

Time to confront my fears – puff pastry. I recently watched Bruno Albouze produce several beautiful deserts using quick puff pastry – a King’s Cake, an apple pie and apple turnovers. Besides showcasing upgraded versions of classic French deserts, Albouze was demonstrating the quality results possible with a very fast method of making puff pastry. The method reduced the production of puff pastry from three days to just a couple of hours. I thought, “Now that’s an idea to take with me into retirement.” And, by the looks of things, I surely will.

I had lots of fruit in the house to choose from, especially apples and pears. I chose to substitute pears for this classic French, Chausson aux pommes (Apple Turnovers), pastry. The result has been delicious. Here’s the low down:

  1. 1/2 recipe of Albouze’s quick puff pastry. Follow his directions and you will succeed.

2. Pear Compote. The compote contains the reason for my choice to use pears instead of apples today. The pears were super ripe and needed to be used. I was hungry for lots of flavor, so I searched and found a recipe for Spiced Pear Compote. I knew that this recipe with anise, cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg would help create an exotic filling – and I wasn’t disappointed. It was a struggle to save the compote for the turnovers and not just eat it on the spot. But I managed. As usual, added my own small touch to this recipe. First, I was able to use freshly grated nutmeg. Second, I added about an ounce of Poire Williams Eau de Vie for some added depth.

3. The pear filling. I simply peeled, cored and diced enough pears to give me 350 gm fruit for the filling. As per the apple mixture recipe of Chef Albouze, I added sugar and a bit of cinnamon and then sautéed them on high for a few minutes to soften but not disintegrate the small pieces and drive away a great deal of moisture.

  1. 350 gm pear
  2. 80 gm sugar
  3. 15 gm butter
Compote and diced pear mixture to create the filling for the “Chaussons”.

Filling and dough done, time to assemble:

I used a large ice-cream scoop to measuring .
Brushed some of the flavorful juice from the sautéed pears to help seal the turnovers.
Egg wash, score, let rest in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. Then bake.
After 10 minutes at 220 C, then 30 minutes at 180 C.
Brushed with maple syrup for a sweet and glossy finish. Done!

Tomorrow – apple turnovers. The puff pastry is already made.

Have a sweet day.

Candied / Crystalized Ginger

I ran across a recipe for a Pear Tarte with ginger and walnuts the other day that looked delicious. I didn’t have any candied ginger nor did I see any in the store, so I decided to make some for myself. As it turns out, the process is not difficult but it does take a faire amount of time.

I haven’t decided if I want to bathe them in sugar or not. It depends on how sticky they remain. For now, lookin’ and tasting wonderful. Next stop….. that tart.

I almost forgot. Here is the link to the recipe I followed from The Daring Gourmet: https://www.daringgourmet.com/how-to-make-crystallized-ginger/#recipe