The sans-cœur and hazelnut gâteau Breton

September 21, 2010 § 3 Comments

The sans-cœur. How do you explain that you have no heart? We studied a bit of negation last week and a young Japanese man professed that he was sans-cœur. It’s a strange concept to grasp, the idea that you can float (or trudge) through life without feeling, without love, without a heart. Is it a concept that can be laughed off, categorized under people-have-said-stranger-things-and-not-meant-them-at-all? We read a love letter from l’écrivain Victor Hugo to his lover Juliette aloud in class today. At the instruction of our professor, we were forced to emphasize each phrase, as though we really believed such intense love and feeling were possible. Our professor holds fast to the idea that wild, powerful love is possible and so our daily conversations often consist of a dialogue of pessimists with her gasping in romantic despair every time we express such hopelessness.

Maybe when you are finally alone, when you finally have a chance to breathe and take in the world around you, maybe then you realize how lonely many people are. It could be the old woman who walks up to you sitting on a bench and asks if you’re Swedish, hoping to launch into a discussion of the recent election, and then, upon the discovery that you are in fact American, is just as eager to discuss George W. Bush and the war on terror. Or it could be the man sitting next to you on the bench, smoking a cigar, who at first seems totally harmless asking questions about your studies until he starts trying to touch your face.

Or the woman you sit down for lunch with in the office — cheese, bread and wine finished with a small gâteau chocolat fondant — who has just discovered that she may lose what is left of her eyesight in her one eye. At this moment in my life, I don’t think I could imagine —and I hope I shouldn’t imagine — waking up one morning without my eyesight. The very thought makes me want to never go to sleep, to stay forever awake and looking, looking at everything around me. It makes you think that life is short, but when you see all these people in this city looking for someone, anyone, to talk to, you find that life is also long.

Life is those moments that stretch out forever while the plates are being cleared and you are waiting for dessert. Life is those moments when you decide that waiting is not enough, that you will have dessert before you will have anything else.

I made these little cakes for Jennifer’s Sugar High Fridays. The theme of September was bite-sized desserts and you can find the full announcement on My Diverse Kitchen. I have to say this is pretty much the theme of my life these days as everything I bake now can be eaten in a couple bites, provided you don’t eat the entire batch.

Hazelnut Gâteau Breton
Adapted from Bon Appétit

Makes 12 mini muffins

125 g. sugar
30 g. ground hazelnuts
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
114 g. salted butter, browned
130 g. flour

1 egg yolk for glaze (you won’t need the whole thing)

Preheat the oven to 325 F/160 C. Butter and flour your mini muffin pans. Combine the egg yolks and hazelnut flour until well blended. Mix in the sugar, then add the vanilla. Gradually whisk in the browned butter. Gradually add the flour to the wet mixture, stirring until just combined in order to avoid a tough cake. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, filling each about 3/4 full. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of each cake generously with the egg yolk. Using the back of a fork, deeply mark a criss-cross pattern on the top of each cake. Bake cakes until deep golden brown on top and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

A lemon-lavender loaf for the whole family

August 8, 2010 § 2 Comments

When I was younger, our family spent a summer at family camps in France. I was ten years old, shy, incredibly picky about what I ate and a little intimidated about spending a couple weeks solely in the company of French kids. We spent our first week at Les Lavandes, in the town of Rémuzat near Nyons. We had a small sunny room by the field, where teenagers and young men played soccer and smoked cigarettes, and we dined in a large room at communal tables. During the daytime, I went off with the other kids my age for organized hiking and swimming. My brother was too young to leave my parents in a strange new country, though there were camp activities for his age group. So instead, I was the one of the family shoved off to do all the traditional camp activities. I played name games, learned about different trees and animals native to the region, and on the last day, accompanied the family of a new friend on a daylong hike. We packed crusty bread and cheese and set off with several other families, though not my own. At the end of the hike, my mother drove out to pick me up, because my ten-year-old self refused to camp out without my parents.

At the end of the week, we drove to a second camp called Pont-Les-Bains. There, I feasted on M&M Ice Cream Pops and played boules (bocce in Italian, which is the name most Americans know it by) with the girls my age. There, we ate at smaller family tables, much like at a restaurant. I don’t remember liking much of the food, which would explain why the M&M ice cream stands out so clearly in my mind.

Though the premise of the camp — complete immersion with real French families — made me nervous at times and I was forever self-conscious of my slight English accent which the girls my age called “adorable,” this summer stands out from any other vacation I have taken. I had never seen France quite like this before, though I had been on a couple of occasions, and I made some friends with whom I kept in touch with for many years afterward. Indeed, as a child, I was big on snail mail, with penpals in France and Australia. We would send friendship bracelets enclosed in letters decorated with colorful stickers back and forth across the oceans and I collected the cutest notecards for such occasions.

Real memories of this summer are fuzzy for me, though blurry images of cobblestone roads and small bridges remain in my mind, alongside more vivid images of vibrant purple lavender. When I got home, I collected long stalks of lavender from the farmers’ market and colorful fabrics, fashioning small lavender pouches. They smelled lovely, though I think I made more pouches than anyone in the family ever needed or wanted. Now, I know there are other uses for lavender; it can be used in many baked goods, giving classic cakes and cookies a fragrant lift. Lemon loaf is a huge favorite in my house and this is probably the best one I have ever made. The loaf is wonderfully moist, with lavender and lemon zest in the batter, and glazed with thin lemon juice icing. A light garnish of lavender is a pretty touch on top of the loaf.

Meyer Lemon Lavender Cake
From the Former Chef

1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup melted butter (the original recipe called for oil)
2.5 tsp lemon zest
2 tsp fresh lavender flowers

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
In a medium sized bowl whisk together the eggs, milk, oil, lemon zest and lavender. Add the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and stir to combine.
Pour the batter into a greased and floured loaf pan. Bake at 350 for 50-55 minutes, or until a wooden skewer comes out clean.
Once the cake is done, remove it from the oven. Using a long wooden skewer, poke holes in the top of the cake, all the way to the bottom, about 1″ apart.

You can see the original recipe for the lemon glaze, which called for heating the sugar and lemon juice to make a syrup. I simply combined the lemon juice with confectioners sugar to make a very thin icing, which I used to coat the top of the loaf.

Bites of sunshine: Mini mango cupcakes

August 2, 2010 § 2 Comments

The Washington D.C. metro stations are located deep underground, requiring long escalators to transport you into the depths of the tunnels. For the eternity you are in the tunnels, packed in like sardines with the other commuters — and tourists depending on the time of day — all other life seems to stop beneath the fluorescent lighting. And then, you emerge on the other side, the sunlight hits your face from the top of the escalator, and for a moment, you stand there blinded until your eyes adjust to the new streets.

Ascending from the escalator of the Eastern Market Metro station was like arising into a different city; it projected me back to my hometown of San Francisco, where street vendors, farmers’ markets and flea markets are in full force on Saturday morning. Buckets of plump, juicy blackberries, soft enough to crush between your fingertips, and wooden crates overflowing with fuzzy peaches, both yellow and white lingered in the sun as we made our way past the first tables of the market. Our eyes were drawn to the glittering silver earrings, paintings of the city bursting with color and bright friendship bracelets in patterns I would never have attempted in 5th grade. One man sat behind a wide array of baking dished painted with bright blue and yellow flowers, inducing child-like delight in me.

On the corner, a photographer brought her lens up close to an old man strumming a guitar and a younger, slightly worn-down, man peddled the Street Sheet. We sat down for lunch at the Montmartre Bistro, where we ordered buckwheat crepes stuffed with prosciutto and cheese and fluffy omelets filled with spinach and fresh tomato. I finally saw crates of summer heirloom tomatoes, brilliant reds and oranges swirling together on their smooth skins. People sat on the sidewalks, eating grilled crab cake sandwiches and sipping lemonade, each poured over an entire lemon. We bought marbled soaps, made in a woman’s home kitchen, cut off of long slabs, in scents of African earth and pure peppermint.

When we finally descended back into the Metro tunnel, we were exhausted, stuffed and bearing several packages. It would only be fitting now to leave with a recipe made with fresh, seasonal fruit. These mango cupcakes are like tiny bursts of sunshine; the cake is studded with pieces of caramelized fruit and the frosting is a light buttercream, folded with mango purée. I actually preferred them without the frosting, when they are just barely sweet, much like those of the original author of the recipe. This is a special post, for the simple reason that the recipe is written in French. I am moving to Paris at the end of August and, over the next few weeks, I will be transitioning a lot of my baking to French to gain a fuller immersion experience. For this recipe, I used mango instead of apricots, for which the original recipe calls, though I am sure these cupcakes are equally good — or better — with apricots. Apricots bring to mind childhood summers spent in the south of France, though I am unsure of whether the apricots are real memories or ones I have sentimentally fabricated over the years.

Original recipe reprinted here, can also be found at Les Gourmandises d’Isa


Pour 8 personnes :
12 abricots
12 noyaux d’abricots
1/2 tasse ( 125 g ) de beurre fondu
2 cuillères à table de miel
3 oeufs
3/4 tasse ( 150 g ) de sucre
1 cuillère à thé d’extrait de vanille
1 et 1/2 tasses ( 180 g ) de farine
1 et 1/2 cuillères à thé de poudre à pâte ( levure chimique )
1/2 tasse ( 60 g ) d’amandes en poudre

Préchauffer le four à 400 F ( 200 C ).
Préparer un moule à muffins en les garnissant de 8 caissettes à cupcakes.

Dénoyauter les abricots en réservant les noyaux et coupez-les en petits dés.
Fondre 2 cuillères à table de beurre, prélevé sur la quantité initiale dans une poêle et faites-y revenir les abricots avec le miel durant 10 minutes, en remuant régulièrement pour qu’ils caramélisent de tous côtés.
Casser les noyaux d’abricots afin d’y récupérer les amandes. Plongez-les une minute dans de l’eau bouillante, puis enlever la peau qui les recouvre.
Hacher grossièrement les amandes et réserver.

Blanchir les oeufs avec le sucre, au batteur électrique puis ajouter la vanille.
Ajouter la farine et la poudre à pâte, puis le reste de beurre fondu, les amandes en poudre, les amandes d’abricots hachées et les abricots.

Séparer la préparation dans les moules préparés et enfourner pour 25 à 30 minutes ou jusqu’à ce que les petits gâteaux soient dorés et qu’un cure-dent inséré au centre, en ressorte propre.
Sortir du four, et laisser refroidir sur une grille.

Oh, Canada: Brown sugar fudge

May 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

Every year in elementary school, we had a day to celebrate our cultures. I went to a bilingual French-English school in the heart of San Francisco and all my classmates brought in great traditional French, Japanese, you name it, dishes. I always approached this day with much trepidation — the farthest back we’ve been able to trace my dad’s side of the family is Missouri and my mother’s English Canadian cuisine is a little lacking. That is, if you’re not a fan of marzipan-topped fruitcake or plum pudding. Which I wasn’t, when I was eight. And I’m still not, at 19. So international culture day was a subject of a lot of debate in my household, and nervousness on my part. My mom finally settled on making maple tarts, which seemed to fit into Canadian cuisine despite the fact that I have never seen them in Canada and I’m fairly certain she made them up on the spot. I mean, she hasn’t made them once since I graduated from elementary school.

So in honor of my Canadian side, I give you a real Canadian recipe. My friend and teammate Emma comes from Montreal and recently made this true Quebecois fudge for her French class. I’ve never had fudge that was not chocolate, but this one is made simply with two types of sugar and crème.

Also, this post could not come at a better time, with the Canadiens tied 1-1 with the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Semifinals. Go Habs!

Quebec Fudge

2 cups brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup heavy cream (at least 35% fat)
butter to grease the pan

Mix together the white and brown sugars until fully uniform. Add crème. Stir the mixture in a saucepan over high heat until the liquid is at 240 ° F. Be sure to only stir the mixture one way. Take it off the stove and continue to stir for another 5 minutes, this time in the opposite direction. Pour into a grease pan and let set. Cut into small squares. Do not refrigerate.

L’imagination au pouvoir: Almond Cake

April 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

Spring is finally here, albeit through the random bursts of rain showers and thunders. Yesterday we were standing at the door of Rosana’s, ready to leave, after picking up last minute necessities for lawnparties, when the clouds burst. I realize I don’t have a very standard definition of last minute, lawnparties are after all over a week away. But per usual, the dress was bought a couple weeks ago, the obnoxious sun hat scored last week (finally!). Fake eyelashes were picked up on a whim for formals right around the time everyone else started thinking about maybe finding a dress. And that’s just how I work. I’m a big believer in themes and an even bigger fan of in your face, impression-making, big-impact themes. So while it may just be formals, for me it’s about the entire outfit.

Anyway, I can’t tell you how excited I am to no longer be wearing drab colors. I didn’t realize outfits could be coordinated to the season until I came out here. I’m excited for yellow, flowery prints, my new summer boots (yes, ask and I’ll show you they exist) and the ten-thousand pairs of sunglasses that have been chilling in my desk for months. And then, I’m excited of this cake because what says spring more than a light, French almond cake dusted with powdered sugar and served with berry compote?

I made this for my French class as part of a presentation on the development of French cuisine through the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s a favorite of David Lebovitz, who is my favorite. I once made his lemon curd to go alongside a lemon cake and ended up eating it by the spoonful straight from the pan on the stove. Please go check out David’s site for the full story behind the recipe.

Almond Cake

1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup almond paste (not marzipan)
10 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature (this is a LOT of butter, over half a pound. It lends a lot of moisture to the cake but I may try cutting it down to 8 ounces next time to decrease the prominent buttery taste of the cake)
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour (next time I think I’ll try using some almond flour in place)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and position the rack to the center of the oven. Line the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan with a round of parchment paper, or butter the pan and dust it lightly with flour, tapping out any excess.

2. With an electric mixer, beat together the sugar and almond paste until the paste is finely broken up (the sugar crystals helps break the paste into pieces-so don’t add the butter yet!)

3. Now add the butter and beat for a few minutes until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, or a measuring cup with a spout, stir together the eggs with a fork then dribble it into the batter as you beat. Add the vanilla.

4. Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt with a whisk. Stir the dry ingredients into the batter until just incorporated.

5. Transfer the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The baking time may take a but longer due to the variation in different brands of almond paste.

Cool the cake on a rack before serving. This cake is extremely moist and will keep well for up to a week if well-wrapped.

Twelve little girls in two straight lines: Almond Madeleines

April 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

A madeleine is a simple pleasure, one savored with a cup of tea on a quiet afternoon, perhaps as the rain drips off the windowpane. It is a simple comfort, one that continually reminds you of home even as the treat may never have been a part of your first home. It is delicately sweet, distracting variations of flavor — overpowering orange and chocolate in replace of the quiet butter, which appears without its inherent bitterness — often serving only to unnecessarily detract from its appeal. For me there is nothing more comforting than a pair of madeleine pans on the kitchen racks. It isn’t often that I get to put them to use, so this weekend I went all out and used all the pans, the traditional-sized ones and the mini ones.

I made a slight variation on the traditional madeleine, from Technicolor Kitchen. I liked the subtle almond flavor (almond extract isn’t something I often come by at college) but think I will decrease the salt a bit next time as the cookies had a bit of a salty aftertaste. My madeleines often come out quite a bit more buttery than the Starbucks variety, which are a guilty pleasure of mine. Next time I might experiment with decreasing the butter by a smidgen but that next time is far and far away, as my madeleine pans are now thousands of miles away.

Almond madeleines

2 large eggs
1/3 cup superfine or baker’s sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1⁄3 cup all-purpose flour, sifted twice after measuring (I only sifted once, and directly into the mixing bowl)
3 tablespoons finely ground almonds
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Butter and flour your madeleine pan.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine eggs, sugar and salt. Beat on medium speed until pale, thick and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes. Mix in vanilla and almond extracts.
On low speed, mix in the sifted flour and almond meal until just incorporated. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the melted butter until blended.

Fill each mold almost completely full. Bake the madeleines until the tops spring back when lightly touched, 10 to 12 minutes.
Cool in pan for 2 minutes. Remove madeleines from pan and allow them cool completely on cooling rack.

I made 12 full-size madeleines and 12 minis (which are about half-bite sized).

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