Changes and More Changes

31 08 2008

Another holiday weekend is upon us and, as usual, I feel compelled to give myself a makeover of some sort. Funny thing with Labor Day weekend is that the weather is still pretty sticky, so it doesn’t make sense to make a radical transition to my fall wardrobe. Money is not currently allowing me to pay a visit to the makeup counter or to my hairdresser, so what’s left? For whatever reason, when faced with a long weekend, I keep taking it as a cue for an inner makeover, so I’m really going to try – to be more positive, to ask crucial questions, and to stop settling for less than what my parents would want for me. Time to shake up my energy level, sense of self-esteem, something. I even changed the appearance of my blog, so take that!

Speaking of blogs, welcome to all of the new Blissfully Domestic readers (the new site launches on Sept 2nd). For those not in the loop, I am currently contributing to the Blissfully Domestic website on the home and garden channel, so you will find me dispensing my usual nuggets of wisdom on a weekly basis, just on a larger scale. Feel free to join me over there and leave me some love, either in the form of a comment or a shout-out on the forum.

Speaking of love, this weekend was the time I set aside for the August Daring Baker’s Challenge, so, as always, I attacked the recipe with child-like enthusiasm. It went pretty well, although my end result turned out a little soggy, which is so totally unlike me. Really, I’m better than that! Before sharing the recipe, here are a couple of thoughts.

While trolling the web for ideas of what the finished result *should* look like, I came across the following gems (sorry, no idea what sites some of these came from):

I thought this was pretty clever – follow the original recipe, but add some raspberries or strawberries as an extra layer on top of the cream filling (you guys know what I sucker I am for raspberries!). How beautiful are these? Do these classify more as profiteroles? I’m not sure!

If you’re a coffee lover like I am, these seem pretty much spot-on. Just add some coffee to the filling or the frosting. Pipe the word “coffee” on some and you’re good to go:

And this is absolutely GENIUS! Set aside some of the pastry dough, make a stencil for the head shape. Bake and voila – ECLAIR SWANS!

So, without any further ado, this month’s Daring Baker’s Challenge…

Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs (mine look nowhere as pretty as the others in this post, do they?)
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)

• Cream Puff Dough (see below for recipe), fresh and still warm

1) Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Divide the oven into thirds by positioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with waxed or parchment paper.

2) Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 (2cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough. Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 41/2 inches (about 11 cm) chubby fingers. Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff. The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.

3) Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep in ajar. When the éclairs have been in the oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking time should be approximately 20 minutes.

1) The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.

Assembling the éclairs:

• Chocolate glaze (see below for recipe)
• Chocolate pastry cream (see below for recipe)

1) Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside the bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper.

2) The glaze should be barely warm to the touch (between 95 – 104 degrees F or 35 – 40 degrees C, as measured on an instant read thermometer). Spread the glaze over the tops of the éclairs using a metal icing spatula. Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill the bottoms with the pastry cream.

3) Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the bottoms with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream and wriggle gently to settle them.

1) If you have chilled your chocolate glaze, reheat by placing it in a bowl over simmering water, stirring it gently with a wooden spoon. Do not stir too vigorously as you do not want to create bubbles.

2) The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.

Pierre Hermé’s Cream Puff Dough
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)

• ½ cup (125g) whole milk
• ½ cup (125g) water
• 1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
• ¼ teaspoon sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
• 5 large eggs, at room temperature

1) In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the boil.

2) Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough will be very soft and smooth.

3) Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your handmixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough. You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it
should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.

4) The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the éclairs as directed above.

1) Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.

2) You can pipe the dough and the freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer the piped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.

Chocolate Pastry Cream
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by PierreHermé

• 2 cups (500g) whole milk
• 4 large egg yolks
• 6 tbsp (75g) sugar
• 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
• 7 oz (200g) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Velrhona Guanaja, melted
• 2½ tbsp (1¼ oz: 40g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1) In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy‐bottomed saucepan.

2) Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a couple spoonfuls of the hot milk into the yolk mixture.Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture.

3) Strain the mixture back into the saucepan to remove any egg that may have scrambled. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously (without stop) until the mixture returns to a boil. Keep whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat).Stir in the melted chocolate and then remove the pan from the heat.

4) Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set it in an ice‐water bath to stop the cooking process. Make sure to continue stirring the mixture at this point so that it remains smooth.

5) Once the cream has reached a temperature of 140 F remove from the ice‐water bath and stir in the butter in three or four installments. Return the cream to the ice‐water bath to continue cooling, stirring occasionally, until it has completely cooled. The cream is now ready to use or store in the fridge.

1) The pastry cream can be made 2‐3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

2) In order to avoid a skin forming on the pastry cream, cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the cream.

3) Tempering the eggs raises the temperature of the eggs slowly so that they do not scramble.

Chocolate Glaze
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 1 cup or 300g)

• 1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream
• 3½ oz (100g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 4 tsp (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
• 7 tbsp (110 g) Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or at room temperature

1)In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.

2) Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.

1) If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly
 in the microwave or over a double boiler. A double boiler is basically a bowl sitting over (not touching) simmering water.

2) It is best to glaze the eclairs after the glaze is made, but if you are pressed for time, you can make the glaze a couple days ahead of time, store it in the fridge and bring it up to the proper temperature (95 to 104 F) when ready to glaze.

Chocolate Sauce
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 1½ cups or 525 g)

• 4½ oz (130 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 cup (250 g) water
• ½ cup (125 g) crème fraîche, or heavy cream
• 1/3 cup (70 g) sugar

1) Place all the ingredients into a heavy‐bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens.

2) It may take 10‐15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon.

1) You can make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for two weeks. Reheat the sauce in a microwave oven or a double boiler before using.
2) This sauce is also great for cakes, ice-cream and tarts.

Please go to the Daring Bakers blogroll to check out the results of my fellow DB’s. Contact the site owners if you’d like to partake in the monthly fun. I’ve seriously pushed myself as a baker and come a lot further than I ever thought I would, so I definitely encourage anyone who loves to bake to give it a try!


The Optimistic Gardener

16 08 2008

In case you’ve been keeping score at home (admit it, you have been!), the seeds I planted last weekend are already starting to do their magic. I already have little dill and basil seedlings, so I’m pretty excited. The tomatoes are still taking their sweet time to mature and I’m sure I’ll have broccoli, zucchini, bean, and lettuce seedlings within the week. My friend K says I need to give them the same pep talk she gives her tomatoes every year, but, really, since when was “grow dammit” a motivator? Hmmm, I’ll have to ponder that tonight over a glass of merlot.

Speaking of things to ponder, Hubs has recently taken a shine to bringing home random pieces of furniture he finds on the curb. Today, he brought home a gorgeous retro accent chair. It’s orange, which would ordinarily bother me, but there’s some green in the swirly upholstery, which matches the color in the dining room, so I may be able to make this work with the right orange and green-themed accent pieces. I’ve suggested that perhaps he should start collecting pieces of wooden furniture, refinish them, and then sell them as a hobby. He likes the idea, but he has never been known for his follow-through, so there is a great possibility that our basement could soon resemble the junk yard where “Sanford and Son” took place.

Another thing to ponder is that the Baby starts transitioning into her preschool class this week. I’m still in shock! My 3 1/2 pound peanut has grown into a strapping 3 year old who laughs at my expense often and doesn’t hesitate to put me in my place when I make a ridiculous request of her such as washing her hands before lunch or wiping after she’s gone to the potty. Where has the time gone?

On the cooking front, I’m keeping things easy with a roasted chicken and 4-cheese mashed potatoes for dinner and starting the day off with the easiest Quiche Lorraine recipe known to man (courtesy of Graham Kerr at Food Porn):

12 ounces shortcrust pastry
6 ounces bacon rashers, rinds removed and cut into strips to fit pastry base
3 ounces gruyere cheese, cut into thin slices
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
Salt, pepper and nutmeg to season

Roll out shortcrust pastry to fit 8-inch pie plate. Prick base with a fork. Place a piece of greaseproof paper over pastry – fill with dried peas and bake in a preheated 425 degree F. oven for 20 minutes. Remove paper and dried peas and allow to cool. Lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees F. Lightly saute bacon in a fry pan. Place bacon strips on base of pastry case. Strew with thin slices of gruyere cheese. Mix eggs with milk and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Pour half the milk and egg mixture over the cheese and bacon. Leave for 2 minutes to set, then add the remainder. Place into the oven and allow to bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven, place on serving dish and serve hot or cold, cut into small slices.

Friday, I’m having some of my mommy friends over for cocktails and appetizers. I picked up some crab meat, so I’m leaning toward making some crab cakes, but haven’t thought much about the rest of the menu. For some reason, I’m thinking of fruit skewers and chocolate sauce and maybe a simple cheese ball? As always, thoughts on the menu are appreciated!

And, finally, I’m sad to report that the Baby will not be finishing this session of swim class. The pool was closed yesterday because the city ordered it and 29 others closed for cleaning due to an outbreak of (gasp!) Cryptosporidium, which is an insidious parasitic condition that occurs when people swim immediately following a case of what Hubs refers to as “The Trots” or they let their kids swim in $hitty diapers. Anyway, they hyper-chlorinated the pool, which doesn’t thrill me, so there is no trip to the pool in store for the kids this weekend.



9 08 2008

This has already been quite the weekend and it’s only half over. For starters, I took the Baby to swim class and it went really well. She had a ball and was blowing bubbles like a fool. When class was over, all of the kids got in the big pool, including the Baby, who usually approaches it with great trepidation. She was having fun and decided it was time to get out, so she tried to climb out of the side of the pool, rather than using the ramp or a ladder. Her tiny foot went out from under her and she fell backwards into the pool. I saw this happen and immediately ran to the pool, but her teacher beat me to her and fished her out of the pool. The Baby is fine. She scraped her foot and it bled, but she did not hit her head (thank God) and started blowing bubbles as soon as she was under water. She was scared and her foot was bloody, but she seems to want to go back for tomorrow’s class and her instructor told her how proud she was of her for remembering to blow bubbles.

Earlier in the day, the Baby and I finally got the fall crops planted. All of them – broccoli, beans, lettuce, and zucchini, plus dill and basil. The spinach has yet to go in, but that doesn’t get planted until September 1st, so we’ve got a few weeks to get the soil ready. Lots of hard work and the Baby got bored waiting for me to dig the trenches for the seeds because she was all about putting those suckers in the ground, but we got it done, so we should have quite the harvest from September through late October/early November.

The weekend started on a not-so-great note. Hubs was let go from the Worst Job in the World, which, while shocking, is a relief because it was just plain awful. He does have a follow-up interview Tuesday for the job he really wants, so, really good things are in store for us, it’s just a matter of timing its arrival just-so.

On the agenda for tomorrow – writing a presentation or two, cleaning, and possibly baking muffins for breakfast. I was going to make apple scones, but since I don’t have actual butter, I’m thinking that margarine is not the way to go here, so I’m sticking with what I know – muffins – diet, be damned. Hubs wants to go to the pool, but I think I’ll sit this trip out so I can get stuff done.

And, really, now that I think about it, when did I get this adept at multitasking? I would love to be as single-minded as Hubs and the kids and just live in the moment for once instead of worrying about what has to be done and constantly looking ahead so I’m not unpleasantly surprised. Anyone else come to this realization?

Here’s a random thought – if you’re part of a couple, have you ever noticed that there seems to be a system of equilibrium involved whenever one partner loses weight? It’s like the universe has designated a certain amount of weight between Hubs and me, so that if I lose weight, he gains, and vice versa. Seriously, why is that?!

So tonight, I’m working on a presentation and watching the Olympics (that is when I’m not annoyed by the incessant ringing of Hubs’s cell phone. It’s his friend who is home alone, drunk and bored and quite possibly irritated because he can’t figure out why a married father of two isn’t rushing to take his call at almost 11pm). I just watched Michael Phelps win his first gold medal. Loved the opening ceremonies last night. I was so touched by the little guy that marched into the stadium next to Yao Ming (look up the story if you haven’t heard it already. It will be well worth your time!) – what a little hero! And the way they lit the torch was beyond amazing!

Mommy Hell

6 08 2008

Tonight, after a very full day at work, I experienced what can only be described as…well, there is no word or clever phrase for what I experienced, so let me just explain. The Baby, the love of my life, my sweet and precious angel, turned into the demon spawn before my very eyes. It all started when I picked her up at school. She went from sweet to Miss Sassypants in about 10 seconds. From there, she said no to every request I made of her, hit me and two of her teachers, and ran from me every time I said it was time to go. Then, she wouldn’t get into her car seat. Literally, it was like she was in protest. I would put her in her seat and she would either arch her back and refuse to be buckled in or she would crawl across the seat to her sister’s seat or, the worse of all, she would get halfway under the front passenger seat. We finally made it to the grocery store, after she chucked her book at my head while I was driving, where she proceeded into full frontal meltdown mode because she wanted cranberry juice that very minute. A.) I didn’t have enough cash on me and did not want to put one more transaction on my card and B.) I was not about to give in to a tantrum. So, off we went to the car, where she reverted back into the I’m-not-getting-into-my-car seat dance accompanied by screaming over lost cranberry juice and copious amounts of tears. I tried to hold her and comfort her, but to no avail. I begged, pleaded, and cajoled, which only seemed to make matters worse. At this point, I was standing in the parking lot next to my car while she laid across the seat screaming. Note that I did not yell or spank, however, other moms passed by, giving me a look like I’m an ax murderer or child abuser and most likely secretly thanking God or Allah that they were not the ones who had to deal with this. No one offered any words of advice or comfort. They only gave me the judgmental you-must-be-the-worst-mother-ever look. as my child is screaming, “I want cranberry juice!” Maybe I should have just gotten the juice to end the tantrum? Eventually, she did get into her seat and we made it home. Her mood immediately changed once she saw Daddy. Naturally.
Thankfully, my mood is much better now. Of course, I also have a big glass of merlot in front of me now that she’s in bed, so that may have something to do with it!


2 08 2008

Yep, it’s official – I’m a farmer. I went out and bought seeds for my fall crops. Yep, I’m that girl – I grow from seed when time permits. As a bona fide city girl, it pains me to talk about my growing crops, but it’s true. I’m growing fall veggies – broccoli, butter lettuce, spinach, snap beans, zucchini (still on the fence as to whether I can grow zucchini for the fall, but I’ll give it a shot!), basil, and dill. So, tomorrow, I’m blowing off church and delving into farming. Yep, that makes me bad, bad Methodist!

Just realized that I forgot to blog my July Daring Bakers challenge (Lis and Evonne, please don’t send me to DB purgatory for this!). Long story short, this was a very time-intensive project and I’m embarassed to show what the end result looked like because the photos show what a disaster my kitchen was afterward, but here is the one photo I’m willing to share:

This is a FABULOUS dessert to share only with those who can appreciate the effort (ie: not Hubs and kids!), which is why I dropped it off at a friend’s house. Also, I used Chambord instead of Grand Marnier in the buttercream and went with raspberry preserves in the filling. Also, I decorated the top with fresh raspberries in lieu of the buttercream and nuts (I just can’t handle too much sugar at one time. It’s too much!). Another hint, for those who need to cheat a la Sandra whats-her-name on Food Network, praline paste is available for sale, if you’re willing to do the research.

Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream
From Great Cakes by Carol Walter

1 Filbert Genoise
1 recipe sugar syrup, flavored with dark rum
1 recipe Praline Buttercream
½ cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
1 recipe Apricot Glaze
1 recipe Ganache Glaze, prepared just before using
3 tablespoons filberts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Filbert Genoise

Because of the amount of nuts in the recipe, this preparation is different from a classic genoise.

1 ½ cups hazelnuts, toasted/skinned
2/3 cup cake flour, unsifted
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
7 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar, divided ¼ & ¾ cups
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. grated lemon rind
5 lg. egg whites
¼ cup warm, clarified butter (100 – 110 degrees)

Position rack in the lower 3rd of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10” X 2” inch round cake pan.

Using a food processor, process nuts, cake flour, and cornstarch for about 30 seconds. Then, pulse the mixture about 10 times to get a fine, powdery mixture. You’ll know the nuts are ready when they begin to gather together around the sides of the bowl. While you want to make sure there aren’t any large pieces, don’t over-process. Set aside.

Put the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, and beat until thick and light in color, about 3-4 minutes on med-high speed. Slowly, add ¾ cup of sugar. It is best to do so by adding a tablespoon at a time, taking about 3 minutes for this step. When finished, the mixture should be ribbony. Blend in the vanilla and grated lemon rind. Remove and set aside.

Place egg whites in a large, clean bowl of the electric mixer with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed, until soft peaks. Increase to med-high speed and slowly add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, over 15-20 seconds or so. Continue to beat for another ½ minute.
Add the yolk mixture to the whites and whisk for 1 minute.

Pour the warm butter in a liquid measure cup (or a spouted container). * It must be a deep bottom bowl and work must be fast.* Put the nut meal in a mesh strainer (or use your hand – working quickly) and sprinkle it in about 2 tablespoons at a time – folding it carefully for about 40 folds. Be sure to exclude any large chunks/pieces of nuts. Again, work quickly and carefully as to not deflate the mixture. When all but about 2 Tbsp. of nut meal remain, quickly and steadily pour the warm butter over the batter. Then, with the remaining nut meal, fold the batter to incorporate, about 13 or so folds.

With a rubber spatula, transfer the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface with the spatula or back of a spoon. **If collected butter remains at the bottom of the bowl, do not add it to the batter! It will impede the cake rising while baking.

Tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. You’ll know the cake is done when it is springy to the touch and it separates itself from the side of the pan. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Invert onto a cake rack sprayed with nonstick coating, removing the pan. Cool the cake completely.

*If not using the cake right away, wrap thoroughly in plastic wrap, then in a plastic bag, then in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If freezing, wrap in foil, then the bag and use within 2-3 months.

Sugar Syrup
Makes 1 cup, good for one 10-inch cake – split into 3 layers

1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbsp. dark rum or orange flavored liqueur

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add the liqueur. Cool slightly before using on the cake. *Can be made in advance.

Praline Buttercream
1 recipe Swiss Buttercream
1/3 cup praline paste
1 ½ – 2 Tbsp. Jamaican rum (optional)

Blend ½ cup buttercream into the paste, then add to the remaining buttercream. Whip briefly on med-low speed to combine. Blend in rum.

Swiss Buttercream
4 lg. egg whites
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
1 ½ -2 Tbsp. Grand Marnier or liqueur of your choice
1 tsp. vanilla

Place the egg whites in a lg/ bowl of a elevtric mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until the whites are foamy and they begin to thicken (just before the soft peak stage). Set the bowl over a saucepan filled with about 2 inches of simmering water, making sure the bowl is not touching the water. Then, whisk in the sugar by adding 1-2 tablespoon of sugar at a time over a minutes time. Continue beating 2-3 minutes or until the whites are warm (about 120 degrees) and the sugar is dissolved. The mixture should look thick and like whipped marshmallows.
Remove from pan and with either the paddle or whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and sugar on med-high until its a thick, cool meringue – about 5-7 minutes. *Do not overbeat*. Set aside.

Place the butter in a separate clean mixing bowl and, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter at medium speed for 40-60 seconds, or until smooth and creamy. *Do not overbeat or the butter will become toooooo soft.*

On med-low speed, blend the meringue into the butter, about 1-2 Tbsp. at a time, over 1 minute. Add the liqueur and vanilla and mix for 30-45 seconds longer, until thick and creamy.

Refrigerate 10-15 minutes before using.

Wait! My buttercream won’t come together! Reheat the buttercream briefly over simmering water for about 5 seconds, stirring with a wooden spoon. Be careful and do not overbeat. The mixture will look broken with some liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Return the bowl to the mixer and whip on medium speed just until the cream comes back together.

Wait! My buttercream is too soft! Chill the buttercream in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes and rewhip. If that doesn’t work, cream an additional 2-4 Tbsp. of butter in a small bowl– making sure the butter is not as soft as the original amount, so make sure is cool and smooth. On low speed, quickly add the creamed butter to the buttercream, 1 Tbsp. at a time.

Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or can be frozen for up to 6 months. If freezing, store in 2 16-oz. plastic containers and thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for several hours.

Praline Paste
1 cup (4 ½ oz.) Hazelnuts, toasted/skinless
2/3 cup Sugar
Line a jelly roll pan with parchment and lightly butter.

Put the sugar in a heavy 10-inch skillet. Heat on low flame for about 10-20 min until the sugar melts around the edges. Do not stir the sugar. Swirl the pan if necessary to prevent the melted sugar from burning. Brush the sides of the pan with water to remove sugar crystals. If the sugar in the center does not melt, stir briefly. When the sugar is completely melted and caramel in color, remove from heat. Stir in the nuts with a wooden spoon and separate the clusters. Return to low heat and stir to coat the nuts on all sides. Cook until the mixture starts to bubble. **Remember – extremely hot mixture.** Then onto the parchment lined sheet and spread as evenly as possible. As it cools, it will harden into brittle. Break the candied nuts into pieces and place them in the food processor. Pulse into a medium-fine crunch or process until the brittle turns into a powder. To make paste, process for several minutes. Store in an airtight container and store in a cook dry place. Do not refrigerate.

Apricot Glaze
Good for one 10-inch cake

2/3 cup thick apricot preserves
1 Tbsp. water

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and preserves to a slow boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. If the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan, add water as needed.

Remove from heat and, using a strainer, press the mixture through the mesh and discard any remnants. With a pastry brush, apply the glaze onto the cake while the cake is still warm. If the glaze is too thick, thin to a preferred consistency with drops of water.

Ganache Glaze
Makes about 1 cup, enough to cover the top and sides of a 9 or 10 inch layer or tube cake

**Ganache can take on many forms. While warm – great fudge sauce. While cool or lukewarm – semisweet glaze. Slightly chilled – can be whipped into a filling/frosting. Cold & solid – the base of candied chocolate truffles.

6 oz. (good) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, like Lindt
6 oz. (¾ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 Tbsp. Grand Marnier, Cointreay, or dark Jamaican rum (optional)
¾ tsp. vanilla
½ – 1 tsp. hot water, if needed

Blend vanilla and liqueur/rum together and set aside.

Break the chocolate into 1-inch pieces and place in the basket of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer into a medium sized bowl and set aside.

Heat the cream and corn syrup in a saucepan, on low, until it reached a gentle boil. Once to the gently boil, immediately and carefully pour over the chocolate. Leave it alone for one minute, then slowly stir and mix the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream. Carefully blend in vanilla mixture. If the surface seems oily, add ½ – 1 tsp hot water. The glaze will thicken, but should still be pourable. If it doesn’t thicken, refrigerate for about 5 minutes, but make sure it doesn’t get too cold!

Assembling Cake

Cut a cardboard disk slightly smaller than the cake. Divide the cake into 3 layers and place the first layer top-side down on the disk. Using a pastry brush, moisten the layer with 3-4 Tbsp. of warm sugar syrup. Measure out 1 cup of praline buttercream and set aside.

Spread the bottom layer with a ¼-inch thickness of the remaining buttercream. Cover with ½ of the whipped cream, leaving ¼-inch border around the edge of the cake. Place the middle layer over the first, brush with sugar syrup, spreading with buttercream. Cover with the remaining whipped cream.

Moisten the cut side of the third layer with additional sugar syrup and place cut side down on the cake. Gently, press the sides of the cake to align the layers. Refrigerate to chill for at least 30 minutes.

Lift the cake by sliding your palm under the cardboard. Holding a serrated or very sharp night with an 8-ich blade held parallel to the sides of the cake, trim the sides so that they are perfectly straight. Cut a slight bevel at the top to help the glaze drip over the edge. Brush the top and sides of the cake with warm apricot glaze, sealing the cut areas completely. Chill while you prepare the ganache.

Place a rack over a large shallow pan to catch the ganache drippings. Remove the gateau from the refrigerator and put it the rack. With a metal spatula in hand, and holding the saucepan about 10 inches above the cake, pour the ganache onto the cake’s center. Move the spatula over the top of the ganache about 4 times to get a smooth and mirror-like appearance. The ganache should cover the top and run down the sides of the cake. When the ganache has been poured and is coating the cake, lift one side of the rack and bang it once on the counter to help spread the ganache evenly and break any air bubbles. (Work fast before setting starts.) Patch any bare spots on the sides with a smaller spatula, but do not touch the top after the “bang”. Let the cake stand at least 15 minutes to set after glazing.

To garnish the cake, fit a 12 – 14-inch pastry bag with a #114 large leaf tip. Fill the bag with the reserved praline cream. Stating ½ inch from the outer edge of the cake, position the pastry tube at a 90 degree angle with the top almost touching the top of the cake. Apply pressure to the pastry bag, moving it slightly toward the center of the cake. As the buttercream flows on the cake, reverse the movement backward toward the edge of the cake and finish by pulling the bag again to the center. Stop applying pressure and press the bag downward, then quickly pull the tip up to break the flow of frosting. Repeat, making 12 leaves evenly spaced around the surface of the cake.

Make a second row of leaves on the top of the first row, moving the pastry bag about ¾ inch closer to the center. The leaves should overlap. Make a 3rd row, moving closer and closer to the center. Add a 4th row if you have the room. But, leave a 2-inch space in the center for a chopped filbert garnish. Refrigerate uncovered for 3-4 hours to allow the cake to set. Remove the cake from the refrigerator at least 3 hours before serving.

Leftover cake can be covered with foil and kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Political Correctness Run Amok?

1 08 2008

I don’t know if you follow Advertising Age like I do (well, I have to!), but the latest ad under fire comes from our friends at Snickers.

Seriously, people are all worked up, saying that this is a direct attack on the gay community. I, for one, take this as it was intended – entertainment that sells. First of all, Mr T = AWESOME, pure and simple. Sheer genius to bring this icon of the 80’s into the next generation. Second, I applaud any and all attempts to lampoon speed walking. Finally, and this really irritates me, why do people feel the need to look for something by which to be offended? Isn’t it time for people to get over themselves and just have a laugh?

Tonight, the ladies next door are having yet another cornhole tournament. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – no one should love cornhole that much. It’s been four nights in a row. Enough already! I’m about to kidnap their scarlet and grey cornhole boards and burn them! Pipe down, already!

Finally, Hubs has channeled his inner Lance Armstrong and is now totally into his new bike. Yay!!! He’s sure it will make him buff and happy in no time. I’ll settle for happy!

Speaking of Hubs, he always gives me a hard time about the house “smelling like a Hallmark store” whenever I burn candles. Sound familiar?