Category Archives: Pastries

coulda-woulda-shoulda meyer lemon coconut crepes & lemon meringue tarts

Although I’m a busy gal, I try my best to find time to do a little something special for my friends on their birthdays.  My best friend recently turned *ahem* 23, and although I didn’t get to make her a cake or dinner, I offered to have her for brunch and then go shopping.  Everything was rather last-minute, but I managed to throw together a decent little spread with what I had on hand.  However, I felt like a birthday merited something a bit more special than your run-of-the-mill omelette.  Rooting in the fridge, I had a burst of inspiration when I came across some Meyer lemons I’d impulse-purchased the week before- I’d make lemon curd.  But what to pair it with?  She was coming at 11:00 and time was of the essence.  Then it hit me.  Crêpes!  I could throw the batter in the blender and they’d only take seconds to cook up.  The lemon curd would be used to fill the crêpes.

Fabulous idea, but by the time we had eaten our omelettes (and consumed generous amounts of mimosas), we were too full to think about eating anything else.  I figured maybe we’d have the crêpes as a post-shopping snack, but we ran short on time.  Over the next several days I guiltily ate my way through them, feeling bad that my friend had been deprived of her rightful birthday treat.  But even after finishing them off,  I still had a fair amount of lemon curd left over.  The wheels started churning again… lemon curd, plus the egg whites left over from making the curd, plus graham cracker dough in the freezer from this Daring Bakers challenge= lemon meringue tarts!  Better yet, I was meeting up with my friend again that weekend, so I got to deliver her a tart as a belated birthday surprise.  I had enough dough and curd to make three individual tarts, so one went to her, one went to another birthday friend (lots of Aries in my crowd!) and the third was eaten greedily by myself and Marvin.

A few cooking notes: The graham cracker dough worked beautifully as pie crust.  It was slightly challenging to roll out because of the high amount of butter, but I ended up just pressing in into the pans and it was fine.  I actually preferred it as pie crust rather than eating it straight as a graham cracker because it’s so rich.  The lemon curd I had made was too thin to be pie filling as-is, so I just warmed it on the stove, adding a bit of cornstarch (dissolved first in cold water) to thicken it, and it was perfect.  For the crêpes I just smeared it on, throwing in some shredded coconut I had on hand.  I’m not going to print a tart recipe here because I kind of pieced together three different recipes and ad-libbed things, but the graham cracker dough recipe can be found in the aforementioned Daring Bakers post. If you want a recipe for lemon meringue pie, my fellow MLFB pal Mom of Mother’s Kitchen just posted one that looks good.

A lemon tangent: I’m still not convinced Meyer lemons are so superior in cooked dishes such as lemon curd, especially given the price difference, but that’s what I had on hand.  I will say, though, that they seem to yield a higher amount of juice than Eurekas so you can use less of them.  Also, as another update to last year’s lemon post, my preserved lemons turned out great, I still have a supply in the fridge that I’ve been working my way through slowly.  I’m glad I didn’t use Meyers for those as some recipes suggest, because the part you use is the skin, and the skin on Meyer lemons is so thin that you wouldn’t end up with much of anything to use.

Meyer Lemon & Coconut Crêpes (batter recipe paraphrased from Crêpes: Sweet & Savory Recipes for the Home Cook by Lou Seibert Pappas)
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2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbs sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbs rum, brandy, or other flavored liqueur that pairs well with your filling (optional)
2 Tbs butter, melted, plus 2-3 tsp for coating the pan

To serve:

1 recipe lemon curd (see below)
sweetened shredded and/or toasted coconut, optional
powdered sugar

Put all the crêpe ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth, about 5-10 seconds.  Scrape down the sides if necessary and pulse 1-2 more times. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour (2 is preferable) or up to 24 hours. (Note: I made crêpes from the same batch of batter over the course of several days and they were fine.)

Heat a nonstick crêpe pan* or skillet over medium-high heat.   Gently stir the batter (it likely will have separated).  When hot, lightly butter the pan (the best method I”ve found is to quickly go over the surface with a stick of butter).  Lift the pan a few inches off the burner and pour just enough batter to coat the pan, quickly tilting and rotating it to distribute the batter. The volume of batter will obviously depend on the size of your pan but try to use the least amount possible while still coating the pan.  (This recipe recommends ¼ cup for a 9-10″ pan.)  If there are “holes” around the edges you can dribble a little more batter in those spots with a spoon.  Cook until the crêpe is just set (about 1 minute), then flip and cook until golden- this should only take another 15-30 seconds.  I use my fingers to grab the edge of the crepe and flip it, I find it much easier than trying to use a spatula, but if you’re doing this just be careful not to burn yourself! Set the crêpes aside on a cookie sheet s you go, keeping them covered with a tea towel or piece of foil. When assembling, you want the crêpes to be warm but not so hot that they melt the lemon curd and make it too runny.

Spread a thin layer of lemon curd over half of each crêpe and fold it in half.  Spread another layer of curd, again over half the surface, followed by a sprinkling of coconut if using. Fold in half again. Spread one last bit of curd over half the crêpe and do a final fold, this time bringing the edge of the crêpe only halfway over (see photos). Sprinkle on more coconut and finish with a light dusting of powdered sugar.  (You can obviously put the curd on however you like and it will taste the same, but I like all the layers this creates.)

*I own this crêpe pan and I like it.  I also use it to make omelettes; the low sides make it really easy to flip / roll the omelette.

Meyer Lemon Curd (adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)
printer-friendly version

Juice of 4 Meyer lemons
6 Tbs butter
1 whole large egg plus 6 egg yolks
1 cup sugar

Place all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Use a whisk to break up the eggs and moisten the sugar.  Put the pan over medium-low heat and stir constantly until the mixture thickens (Dorie says 4-6 minutes but mine always seem to take longer).  The curd is done when you can run your finger down a spoon or spatula and the curd doesn’t run into the track you’ve created.  Don’t worry if it looks thin, it will firm up as it cools.  Place plastic wrap on the surface of the curd and refrigerate.  The curd will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 months.  Makes about 1 ½ cups.

pumpkin-pecan and turkish delight cannoli (daring bakers)

I actually made my Daring Bakers challenge early this month, woot! Marvin informed me that we were going to a dinner party a couple weeks ago and volunteered me to bring a dessert, so I figured it was as good an excuse as any to roll up my sleeves and get frying.

I was a little skeptical about frying anything in my tiny kitchen without the aid of a deep fryer, but it turned out pretty much ok. I used my Le Creuset Dutch oven, which was deep enough to avoid any splattering.  The only collateral damage was a lingering fast-food grease smell that permeated the house for several days after!  I used pasta tubes for the cannoli forms, which was a little challenging but not impossible.

The cannoli were not difficult to make, but they were time-consuming.  Thankfully I had a pasta rolling machine, which greatly helped in rolling the dough to the proper thickness- I can’t imagine if I’d had to roll it out by hand, yikes.  The dough actually behaved very similarly to pasta dough and the machine worked very well at getting it to a workable consistency.  I hit a little bit of a speed bump when I went to make the dough- it was Sunday morning, I didn’t have any wine in the house, and you can’t buy alcohol until noon.  I didn’t have time to wait, so I poked around the pantry until I came across some Chinese cooking wine.  I sniffed it… it smelled close enough to Marsala, so into the dough it went.

For filling my cannoli, I bought ricotta but also bought some whipping cream which I whipped and folded into the ricotta.  It wasn’t traditional, of course, but it gave a wonderful light texture to the filling.  I divided my filling into two bowls and flavored one batch with about ¼ cup pumpkin butter from Trader Joe’s.  The other half of the filling was inspired by Turkish flavors; I used sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, and a little orange flower water.  The pumpkin-filled cannoli got pecans on the ends, and the “Turkish delight” cannoli got pistachios and apricots.

I doubt that cannoli would be something I’d attempt again at home, not just because of the frying but because they ended up being a little on the expensive side after you factor in the whole bottle of oil I had to use, and the manicotti shells I bought to use as molds.  But it was a fun experience, and after the last challenge, it was nice to make something I had success with on the first try!  (For recipe, please visit our hostess Lisa Michele’s blog at the link below.)

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

vols-au-vent with custard & raspberries, or “i am not a baker!” (daring bakers)

large vol au vent 2I had a conversation last night that went something like this:

My friend S to me: “Hey, you like to cook, you should join our Cooking Club, we get together every Sunday night and make food and watch Mad Men, it’s really fun!”

S to her friend A, also a member of said club: “Noëlle’s a great cook, she makes all kinds of stuff…”

A to me (apparently trying to suss out whether I was Cooking Club material): “Oh really?  What kind of stuff do you cook?”

Me (with a touch of pride): “Well, I just made puff pastry for the first time…”

Him (interrupts): “Oh, so you’re a baker.”

Me: “No, I mean, I participate in this baking-challenge thingy to try to broaden my skills or whatever, but mostly I cook…”

Him: “No, but you’re a baker.”

Here’s where it got weird, because I then found myself getting strangely defensive, insisting that no, I’m not a baker, I don’t even really like sweets that much, I was probably going to use my remaining puff pastry to make some sort of savory tart, and that 80-90% of the time I spend in the kitchen is spent cooking, not baking.  I really have no idea why it was important to him to stress that I was a “baker” rather than a cook, or why it was important to me to correct that impression, but so it was.

small vol au vent 1

My challenge results this month will back up my point.  I didn’t have too hard a time making the actual puff pastry dough, but shaping it into the vols-au-vent was an exercise in frustration.  I first made a batch that were supposed to be heart-shaped, which I was planning on taking to a bridal shower, but they were all so misshapen that I didn’t even bother.  The photo is of the best-looking ones of the bunch, and even those look pretty funky.  I put a little spoonful of honey into the hollow and topped them with raspberries and walnuts and they were tasty enough, but I wanted to do something more challenge-worthy, so I decided to attempt another batch.  This time I did square(ish) cutouts and made a pastry cream to fill them with.  I still had a terrible time handling the dough- it seems it can’t be at room temperature for more than a minute or two, and then you have to return it to the fridge lest it go all gooey on you.  It took me longer to cut the dough into shapes and assemble them than it did to to bake it and make the filling, because I had to keep stopping and re-chilling the dough.

My finished shells didn’t look like much- they were irregular and had cracks in the bases- but once I got them filled with pastry cream and threw a bunch of raspberries on top, no one was much complaining. I filled the shells about an hour or two before they were eaten, and the pastry held its crunch nicely without getting soggy, so I was pleased with that.  But I’m still not calling myself a baker.

And now a word of thanks for our hostess: The September 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan. (Coincidentally, the recipe I used for the pastry cream was also from Dorie Greenspan, from her book Paris Sweets.)

I do want to thank Steph for throwing down the gauntlet and getting me to make something I’ve always wanted to try but have been too intimidated. Now that I know the dough is doable, perhaps I’ll make it again but just use it for preparations that don’t involve so much handling, such as a tart crust.  For a recipe and instructions on making puff pastry, just click the link to Steph’s blog.

pumpkin-pecan puff pastry bites with orange glaze

 
Halloween Supper @ Jeff & Megan's

Halloween supper @ Jeff & Megan's

I have to admit that my Halloween spirit was at a low this year.  I think it had something to do with the fact that my good friend Katie, whom I have celebrated Halloween with the last several years and who is really into dressing up and having a good costume, moved away earlier this year.  I truly wish I was one of those crafty people who can’t wait for the chance to get out the sewing machine or hit the thrift store in pursuit of a great costume, but I tend to be more of the lazy last-minute type who is frantically digging in my closet at 6pm Halloween night.

Seeing as how I didn’t get dressed up, I figured the least I could do was try to get creative with some Halloween-themed food.  We were invited to a casual dinner of Turkey Chili at our friends Jeff & Megan’s house, so I decided to bring a dessert.  I have to mention that even with a 7-month-old baby, these two manage to pull off hosting a great party with delicious food and make it seem effortless.  Makes me feel that I need to work on my time management skills!  (By the way, the chili, which was excellent, was made from the Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites cookbook; they just added ground turkey to the veg recipe.)

Being short on time, I needed to find something that would be relatively simple.  I was flipping through an old copy of Martha Stewart Living and found a recipe where she had taken layers of puff pastry, filled it with cheese and mustard, and used pumpkin-shaped cookie cutters to cut out each pastry.  Since I was enlisted to bring a dessert item, I adapted the recipe to be sweet rather than savory.  Everything I used was store-bought, so it was more of an assembly than actual baking.  The finished product wasn’t as pretty as something Martha would have made, but considering that I was winging it I thought it was not so bad.  I got many compliments from the other party guests, so I guess taste won out over good looks.  I know Halloween is over, but this idea could be adapted to any holiday really,  just by changing the shape of the cookie cutter and/ or the filling. I definitely want to toy around with it some more and will update if I hit upon a superior method. 

 

Pumpkin-Pecan Puff Pastry Bites with Orange Glaze

1 package store-bought puff pastry (see note)
1 jar pumpkin butter or pumpkin pie filling (about 6 or 7 oz)
1/2 cup toasted pecan pieces
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbs butter
1 tbs natural orange flavor
red+yellow (or orange) food coloring 
flour, for dusting

The finished product

The finished product

Preheat oven to 375.  Defrost puff pastry if necessary (it will thaw quickly at room temp; don’t let it get too warm).  On a clean countertop or piece of parchment paper, sprinkle a light dusting of flour.  Lay one of your squares of pastry on the flour.  Spread the pumpkin butter on the pastry, leaving about an inch around the edges.  Sprinkle on the pecans.  Place the second piece of pastry on top.  Lightly dust a rolling pin and roll the two sheets out until they are about 30% larger than their original surface area (keep the size of your cookie cutter in mind and try to maximize the number of cutouts).  If at any point the pastry seems too sticky or hard to work with, put it in the fridge to chill for a few minutes.  When you’re done rolling out, put the pastry in the refrigerator while you make the glaze. 

Melt the butter in a small bowl; when it is melted, stir in the sugar, orange flavor, and a couple drops food coloring to make a nice pumpkiny orange color.  If the glaze seems too grainy, you can nuke it on LOW power for 10-20 seconds at a time; this should help melt the sugar.  Just be careful; melted sugar is extremely hot!  If you don’t want to bother making a glaze, you could just melt some apricot jam in the microwave with a little water and use that for the glaze.  Another glaze alternative would be to brush the tops with beaten egg white and sprinkle with orange sugar (just omit the butter from the glaze recipe).

Take a couple cookie sheets and line them with parchment paper (optional, but will make your cleanup a heck of a lot easier).  Use pumpkin-shaped cookie cutter to cut out as many shapes as possible.  Lay them on your cookie sheet.  If you like, you can take a sharp knife or razor blade and make little vertical slashes for the pumpkin ridges.  (I also cooked the scrap pieces; those are the cook’s treat!)  Bake for 15 minutes in the middle of the oven.  Take the pastries out and brush with the orange glaze; return to the oven for another 5 minutes.  (I put my glaze on when they were still cold, but I think they would have turned out a little better if I had waited; that way you don’t risk the sugar burning.)  Let cool for 5-10 minutes before eating.  (These are best eaten warm, and will get slightly soggy if you have to put them in a closed container.)   

Note:  I have encountered many recipes that call for store bought puff pastry, but I could never find any at the store that was not made with hydrogenated shortening.  Being one who avoids trans fat whenever possible, I was not willing to purchase a product with shortening.  I am therefore ECSTATIC to report that Trader Joe’s now carries a frozen puff pastry made with real butter!  At $5 a package, it’s not cheap, but unless you have a couple hours and some serious patience to devote to making your puff pastry from scratch, it’s definitely worthwhile.  I try to always have a package in the freezer- it’s a lifesaver when you need to make a last-minute dessert, quiche, appetizer or whatever.  In summer when fresh fruit was in season, I was constantly using it to make simple fruit tarts. One of these days I will tackle making my own puff pastry from scratch (just to prove that I can), but for now, this product is my new food BFF.  LOVE IT!