Brioche tart sinle

I could smell the sweet scent well before I saw them.  As I walked closer, the perfume became much stronger.  Then, they were upon me.  My eyes quickly darted from side to side to take them all in.  Row upon row of fuzzy little peaches.  With a smile I reflect to myself, summer is almost here.

I usually avoid buying stone fruit this early in the season.  Inevitably, I am disappointed from the very first bite.  Too tart.  Too tasteless.  Too dry.  But something was urging me to throw caution to the wind this day.  So I bought the peaches.

I am glad I did.  Back home, I quickly got to work preparing a caramel inspired dish to showcase this fragrant fruit.  When flipping through Baking with Julia, by Dorie Greenspan, I hit gold.  A recipe by Nancy Silverton that incorporated all the right elements for caramel month. Brioche Tart with White Secret Sauce. 

The egg rich bread is filled with creamy custard, topped with a tangy sabayon sauce, and served with caramel poached fruits.  During caramel month, I mostly have included examples of creamy and crunchy caramel, so I was keen to include the perhaps less obvious clear caramel into the mix.  The caramel poached fruit in this recipe was a simple way to feature this option.

My favourite part of this recipe – apart from the taste, of course – was the volcanic-like reaction during the sauce process when adding the wine to the caramel.  Try it, and you will see what I mean.  Oh, but be really careful.

We enjoyed this tart for a sweet weekend breakfast alternative to the typical pancake or waffle options.  It would also be a delicious dessert.  The fruit cuts the creaminess of the sauce and tart well, and would certainly be the perfect finish to a meal.

Brioche tart set

{ Brioche Tart with Caramelised Fruits } recipe adapted by Nancy Silverton from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan

I made one significant change to the original recipe.  I selected to use the Brioche dough from Dorie Greenspan’s, Baking: From my Home to Yours.  I was a little short on time so this was a speedier option.  I also elected to include some dried apricots for the fruit selection to complement the aromatic peaches.

* Ingredients *
Brioche dough, chilled
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup whole milk, just warm to the touch
2 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Custard
1 cup creme fraiche homemade or store-bought or sour cream
1 large egg
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg white, beaten
Crystal sugar, for sprinkling

Sauce
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 vanilla beans, preferably Tahitian
1/3 cup water
2-1/4 cups dry white wine
4 large egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks

Fruit
Assorted ripe but firm fruits, such as apricots, peaches, nectarines, and/or plums or assorted dried fruits, such as raisins, prunes, apricots, and/or peaches
Chopped toasted blanched almonds
Confectioner’s sugar

* Directions *
Put the yeast and warm milk in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir until the yeast is dissolved.  Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl, and fit the mixer with the dough hook, if you have one.  Working on low speed, mix for a minute or two, just to get the ingredients together.  Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for 7 – 10 minutes, stopping a few times to scrape down the bowl and the hook, until the dough is stretchy and fairly smooth.  The dough will seem fairly thin, more like a batter than a dough, and it may not be perfectly smooth – that is fine.

Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave it in a warm place until nearly doubled in size, 30 – 40 minutes.

Deflate the dough by lifting it up around the edges and letting it fall with a slap into the bowl.  Cover the bowl again with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator.  Slap the dough down in the bowl every 30 minutes until it stops rising, about 2 hours.  Then if you’ve got the time, leave the dough in the refrigerator overnight – it will be tastier for the wait.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and butter a 1-1/4-inch-high 10-inch flan ring or the ring of a 10-inch springform pan.

Gently work the dough into a ball, flatten it into a 5-inch disk, and roll it out on a lightly floured surface into a circle that’s at least 1 to 1-1/2 inches larger than the flan ring. If your circle is ragged, trim it to an even round.

Centre the flan ring on the dough and press down on the ring gently so that, when lifted, it leaves a clear impression. This impression will be your crimping guide. Keeping the fingers of your left hand (right, if you’re left-handed) against the guideline, lift a little of the dough from the edge with your right hand and fold it over so that it falls about 1/4 inch past the guideline. In this position, you should be able to pinch the dough between the index fingers of both hands and crimp it. Twist your fingers slightly and the dough will have an attractive diagonal crimp. Work your way around the tart and don’t be concerned about getting it just so-as luxurious as this custard-filled brioche will be, it is still a simple, rustic tart.

Place the flan ring on the parchment-lined baking sheet and lift the dough up and into the ring. Work your fingers around the crimped edge, pressing your fingers into the dough so that you lift up the thick, crimped edge a bit and firmly press down the base of the dough.

Let the dough rise, uncovered, at room temperature until it doubles in size, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 275F.

Whisk the creme fraiche and egg together in a small bowl and keep close at hand.

Press your fingertips into the dough, covering all of the tart, except for the crimped edge, with abundant and deep dimples-don’t be afraid to press your fingers down almost to the bottom of the pan. Spread the creme fraiche mixture evenly over the bottom of the tart, going right up to where the crimping begins. Sprinkle 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar over the custard.

You’ll know how much sugar to use because the custard will tell you-it will only absorb a certain amount. Stop when it appears that the custard won’t take any more.

Brush the crimped edge of the dough with the beaten egg white and sprinkle it with crystal sugar. Bake the tart for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the custard is just about set. The custard should be a little loose; it should jiggle slightly when you shake the pan gently. Remove to a cooling rack. A few minutes after the tart comes from the oven, slide a cardboard cake round under the tart and lift off the ring. Serve the tart slightly warm or at room temperature, with or without the sauce and fruit garnish.

To make the caramel syrup for the sauce, put the sugar into a heavy-bottomed medium skillet with high sides or a saucepan. Split the vanilla beans, scrape the soft, pulpy seeds into the pan, and toss in the pods. Pour in the water-it should be just enough to cover the sugar-but don’t stir. Turn the heat to high and bring the mixture to the boil. Now you can either cover the pan for a couple of seconds to wash down any sugar that has crystallized on the sides of the pan or you can wash them down with a pastry brush dipped in cold water.

As the caramel continues to cook, you’ll notice that the bubbles will get bigger and shortly after that you’ll see the first sign of colour-there is always a hot spot. As soon as the caramel starts to colour, begin to swirl the skillet gently over the heat. Keep cooking and swirling frequently until the caramel is a deep gold test-test the colour by putting a drop of the caramel on a white plate. It probably will take 7 to 10 minutes to get the right colour.

When you’ve got the colour you want, immediately remove the pan from the heat and add the white wine. Stand back as you pour in the wine because the caramel will bubble and sizzle -it will also seize and harden. Return the pan to the heat and bring the syrup to the boil again to melt the caramel. Pour 1-1/2 cups of the syrup through a strainer into a heatproof measuring cup. Reserve the remaining syrup in the pan; you’ll use it to cook the fruit garnish.

Put the yolks into the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer (or use a heatproof bowl) and, whisking constantly, drizzle in the hot caramel. Put the bowl over a saucepan of boiling water-the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl-and whisk without stop until the yolks are voluminous and almost too hot for you to stand when you dip your finger into the mixture: This should take at least 5 minutes, but the yolks may need as long as 8 minutes of heat and constant stirring. (If the eggs start to cook, a bad sign, or are heating unevenly, lift the bowl out of the pan, whisk for a few seconds off the heat, and then return the bowl to the heat and continue to whisk.)

Attach the bowl to the mixer, fit the mixer with the whisk attachment (or use a hand-held mixer), and beat the yolk mixture at medium-low speed for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the mixture is cool to the touch, pale in colour, and about tripled in volume. The bottom of the bowl should feel cold and the mixture should have the look of whipped mayonnaise. Gently fold in the whipped cream. The sauce can be kept covered in the refrigerator for about 24 hours.

If you are using fresh fruits, slice them. If you are using a selection of dried fruits, dice the fruits, soak them in hot water to plump them, and then drain them. Pat them dry before using.

Bring the caramel-wine syrup to a boil in the skillet in which it was made. Add the fruit and swirl the pan. Cook the fruit, swirling the pan and stirring the fruit as needed, until the fruit is softened.

To serve, place a slice of the tart on each plate (this would be nice on largish plates). Spoon on some of the sauce and the caramel poached fruit, lifting the fruit from the skillet with a slotted spoon, and decorate the plate with a shower of toasted nuts and a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

Although the sauce can be made ahead, and the dough must be made in advance, the tart must be served the day it is made.

Serves 8 to 10

Belle Helene

For my next caramel challenge, I attempt Pierre Hermé’s version of the classic Belle Hélène.

The traditional Belle Hélène includes poached pears served with vanilla ice cream and a chocolate sauce.  Pierre Hermé’s version includes a few substitutes, bien sûr.  Most notably, the ice cream choice is chocolate and the sauce, caramel.  He also includes pear halves instead of whole pears.  Because of this, I originally started plating the dessert instead of serving it up ‘sundae’ style.  I was afraid the pears would be lost and wanted to display them more prominently.

So I carefully cut and fanned a pear on a plate.  Then drizzled with caramel sauce.  Setting that aside, I made a spun sugar ball as final decoration.  Next, the-clock-is-now-ticking part.  I made a perfect quenelle of ice-cream and delicately added to the plate.  I was shocked and then horrified to see it immediately starting to melt practically as soon as it made contact with the plate – and before I could even pick up the camera.

I am not sure if it was because the spoon I used to quenelle the ice cream needed to be warm so it already started the ‘melting process’, or if the plate should have been chilled, or if the eggless ice cream is more difficult to work with?  Any thoughts?

So Plan B it was.  The original sundae serving suggestion.

I quickly made some more sugar threads to top the sundae. I flattened them out slightly to achieve a little contrast with the shape of the pear.  (I should point out that this caramel decoration is not part of Pierre Hermé’s recipe, but when reading through it, I wanted to inject a little more caramel into the dessert.)  The rest of the sundae came together quickly.  And with just enough time to take a photograph, or two.

In terms of flavours, it was a delicious combination.  I already have plans to make additional caramel sauce to keep in the fridge – as back-up.  The chocolate ice cream was a refreshingly light version of the more popular creamy variety.  And the pears?  A simple lemon-vanilla syrup certainly infused its way throughout this fruit.  I am not typically a big fruit dessert fan, but the delicate flavour of these pears will certainly have me coming back for more.

My next caramel challenge will absolutely be something with a little more ‘shelf life’ – for my sanity, if nothing else!  And as soon as I receive the wedding photographs (pending!), I will do a little update on the wedding macarons favours and a few snaps from the big day.

{ Belle Hélène } recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé and Dorie Greenspan
 
Pears
 
* Ingredients *
29 oz (825g) can of pear halves in syrup
1 cup water
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Pulp from half a vanilla bean
 
* Directions *
Drain the pears.  Bring water, sugar, lemon and vanilla to the boil.  Remove and pour over pears.  Cover with wax paper and refrigerate overnight.
 
Caramel Sauce
 
* Ingredients *
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons salted butter
 
* Directions *
Bring cream to a boil and then set aside.  In clean saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of sugar over the bottom of the pan.  A soon as the sugar starts to melt and colour, stir with a wooden spoon until it caramelises.  Sprinkle over half the remaining sugar, and repeat.  Add the remaining sugar and cook until the colour is deep brown colour.  Take the pan off the heat and add the butter carefully (may splatter) and then add the cream.  Continue to cook until the sauce just starts to boil again. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
 
Chocolate Ice Cream
 
* Ingredients *
½ cup powdered milk
3 cups whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
8 oz (230g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
 
* Directions *
Set up an ice water bath with a small and large bowl and set aside.  Place powdered milk in sauepan and gradually whisk in whole milk.  When powdered milk dissolved, whish in sugar.  Bring mixtgure to the boil, then stir in the chopped chocolate and bring to the boil again.  Pull pan from the heat and pour the hot choolate mixture into the reserved small bowl.  Set the bowl into the ice water bath until cool.  Churn the ice cream in an ice cream maker following the manufacturer’s dictions.  Pack the ice cream into a freezer container and store in freezer for at least 2 hours.
 
Spun Sugar (recipe by Sherry Yard)
 
* Ingredients *
¼ cup water
1 cup sugar
 
* Directions *
Prepare an area for spinning the sugar.  Position two medium saucepans with metal handles at the edge of the kitchen counter/bench.  Let the handles extend out over the floor.  Place some newspaper on the floor to cach drips.  Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan.  Cook the sugar until the temperature reaches 300F or 150C.  Watch closely until the temperature edges up to 325F or 165C.  Take the caramel off the heat and let cool to about 275F or 130C.  Dip a fork into the caramel and carefully scoop out. Position the fork about 12 inches or 30cm above the handles and let the caramel flow off the fork, quickly wiggling the fork and draping the caramel back and forth over the handles.  After two or three forkfuls, stop and gather up the sugar threads and set aside and begin again.  Spun sugar needs to be used immediately.
 
Assembly
 
Put two scoops of chocolate ice cream into the bottom of a long stemmed balloon shaped wineglass or other cocktail glass.  Top with a few pear halves and drizzle over some caramel sauce.  Top with spun sugar, if using.

Party Cake

There is one celebration cake that I have seen published numerous times on various food blogs.  Dorie Greenspan’s ‘Perfect Party Cake’.  In her book, Baking: From My Home to Yours, Dorie even suggests tagging the page so you know where to find the recipe in a moment’s notice.  (I think Dorie is on to something!)

This cake can be made with a multitude of flavour combinations.  Like my recent cupcakes adventures, I appreciate a recipe that you can tailor to make your own.

Even though I celebrated my own birthday recently, there was actually another in the family last week, too.  Assuming the role of ‘resident family baker’ for that celebration, there was no question which recipe to use.

I have never made a ‘sweet’ combining lemon and chocolate.  I have seen this flavour duo in a few places and incredibly eager to try it.  Given the versatility of Dorie’s recipe, I knew this was my opportunity.  So I made a zesty lemon cake (doubling the recommended amount of lemon zest), and paired that with a creamy chocolate buttercream frosting (similar to the buttercream frosting I made recently for my cupcakes here, here and here).

Which brings me to the photograph.  I believe I have successfully mastered coordinating my baking activities to ensure my tasty treats are ready for their requisite gathering, party or get-together.  What I have not quite mastered is extending that ‘timing plan’ to capturing a photograph or two.  In this case, the cake was set out….candles lit…..and subsequently (nearly all!) consumed before my camera was able to join the party.  So in this case, the photograph was taken après la soirée.  With less than half a cake left, I was limited in what I could capture.

If you have Dorie’s book, tag the recipe now (p250).  If you do not have the book, consider buying it.  Or bookmark the recipe here – I provide the standard recipe below.  Try this cake for your next celebration.  Create your own flavour, and make it your own.  You will not be disappointed.
 
{ Perfect Party Cake }

* Ingredients *
2 ¼ cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

* Directions *
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 180 C or 350 F. Butter two 20cm or 9 in round cake pans and line the bottom of each with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.  Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.  Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter, and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and will aerated. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch- a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (The cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.)

Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread it with one third of the preserves. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream left over). Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

{ Buttercream }

* Ingredients *
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

* Directions *
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or other large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat.

Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6 to 10 minutes. During this time, the buttercream may curdle or separate-just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. You should have a shiny, smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

Makes 12 to 14 servings

Serving: The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room-not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it is cold. Depending on your audience, you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

Storing: The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to 2 days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slice it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well- it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.

rugelachI vividly remember the first time I tasted Rugelach.  It was about 10 years ago in Boca Raton, Florida.  Why do I recall this memory so clearly?  Because I was entranced by the charming croissant-like shaped pastry that was overflowing in flavours and textures.  It was sweet, it was caramely, it was crunchy, it was soft.  It was delicious.

I have since sampled a number of store-bought Rugelach – most recently a cinnamony flavoured version from Zabar’s in NYC.  I thought it was high time I made this mouth-watering treat myself.

The holiday seemed a perfect occasion to bake this cream cheese pastry yum yum.  I know Rugelach is a Jewish cookie, and not exactly ‘kosher’ for Christmas, but it seems so cheerful I could not resist including it in my Christmas baking selection.

To maintain as much authenticity to the Jewish recipe as possible, however, I consulted the much-loved version by Dorie Greenspan.  This recipe was passed to Dorie by her mother-in-law and has been successfully reproduced many times.

I love a good pastry and have considerable fondness for all the filling ingredients Dorie recommends … walnuts, currants, chocolate chips, fruit jam.  There was no need for any substitutions or omissions of the flavours on my part!

I made the recipe exactly per Dorie’s suggestion.  It was incredibly easy to make.  The cream cheese pastry came together like a dream.  The assembly and construction was very quick, too.  I baked my batch of Rugelach for 25 minutes and they were perfect – golden and gorgeous.

I greedily devoured these treats straight out of the oven.  I also, “for research purposes”, needed to taste test the impact of cooling … multiple times!  They were truly addictive.

Rugelach may never match the mystère of the French Macaron made famous by Pierre Hermé and Ladurée, but I maintain they are equally delicious.  I promise you will enjoy them, too.

{ A few tips … }

1. If you use regular sized chocolate chips, consider grounding them to make them smaller.  This will reduce the chance of ‘filling slippage’ outside of the cookie when rolled.
2. Even though the dough is incredibly simple to make, do resist over handling.
3. It is important to use good quality jam.  I always use St Dalfour in baking which has no added sugar.  This ensures that the sweetness of the jam is not overpowering and only imparts a fruit flavour.