belated, but no less daring baker

I’m going to do my best to make this short and sweet so I can still make the Daring Baker deadline.  I put this month’s recipe off out of fear which was silly because it turns out it was pretty easy (a bit time consuming, but easy).

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.

The recipe for the puff pastry dough can be found here.  I saw abricotines in Richard Bertinet’s Crust and couldn’t resist giving a similar twist to the plums I had on hand.

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Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Once I had six turns on the dough, I chilled it overnight.  The next morning I trimmed the edges off and cut the dough into eight 4″ squares.

Then gently fold each square into a triangle and cut the edges without cutting to the corner in the center.

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Then unfold and pivot so the uncut corners are at the top and bottom.

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Then flip the rim on the left over to the right.

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Then the right over to the left.


This makes a little nest for the pastry cream and poached plum (recipe at end of post).  Then chill them for 15 minutes on the tray before baking.

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Give them an egg wash before baking for 30 minutes.

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About half way through the baking time, I thought I had done something wrong because butter started melting out of all the pastries and they weren’t puffing.  Then suddenly they puffed up with a perfect crispy base.  I’m anxious to try other variations with this recipe…croissants, pain au chocolat, savory cheese straws, and more.

pastry cream

Whisk together in a separate bowl, 3 egg yolks, 1.5 ounces sugar, 1 ounce sifted flour and set aside.

In a small saucepan pour 2 cups milk and 1.5 ounces sugar.  Add seeds from one vanilla bean.  Place over full heat.  When it starts to bubble, stir 1/3 of milk into the egg mixture.  Slowly whisk in the rest of the milk and then strain back into the pan using a mesh sieve.  Bring to a boil and simmer for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly, until thick.  Pour into a dish to cool. 

poached plums


2 cups water

1 cup sugar

4 plums peeled, halved, and pitted

In a medium saucepan, combine water and sugar.  Bring mixture to boil and add plums.  Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and let the plums cool in the syrup.  When cool, pat dry.  They can be used at this point, or you may store them in an air tight container for up to two days.

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happily ever after

Once upon a time there was a girl who was planning her very first dinner party. She set a menu of ricotta ravioli with a fresh tomato sauce. On the side there would be roasted sweet potato and butternut squash with a balsamic sauce and sea salt. Little did she know, she was unable to make pasta. Though she tried and tried, each time she was left with a floury, crumbly mess. That night her friends dined on delivery pizza and roasted sweet potato and butternut squash and it became known as the ravioli incident.

Eight years later…

This very same girl has been challenged by Daring Bakers to make lasagne from beginning to end, all by hand. ugh

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

She gathered up her confindence and took a deep breath…

The recipe that follows is what I used. For the original challenge recipe, be sure to check out the official Daring Bakers site.

spinach egg pasta

makes equivalent of 1 pound of dried pasta

3 eggs (the original recipe said 2 eggs but after my first attempt I needed to add one)

6 ounces frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry

3 1/2 cups all purpose unbleached flour

You can make a well with the flour, but I learned during the ravioli incident that wells and I can’t seem to make it work.

Place flour in a bowl and make a little well for the egg and spinach.


Using a fork gradually beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides will collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump

except mine looked like this


I reminded myself to be daring and take another shot at it. I bumped the eggs up to three and this time I didn’t squeeze all the water out of the spinach.


look what happened – you can see the color difference between leaving a bit of spinach water instead of really squeezing it dry.


Kneading –

With the aid of a scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove and bits for hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. It’s consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. Continue kneading for about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it relax at room temperature for 30 minutes to 3 hours.

After finding success with the 2nd batch I went back and added another egg to the first and was able to knead it as well.

Stretching and Thinning –

If using a regular rolling pin, divide the dough into quarters. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins out, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward. Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat.

Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin. Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand. Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.


Repeat the two processes as the disc become larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For lasagne, the sheet should be so thin that you can see your hand through it and colors. Cut into rectangle about 4 x 8 inches. Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.



These were hanging on my bed. They seemed fairly dry at bedtime so I placed them flat on some racks over night. Oops. They had enough moisture in them that they curled. They cooked up without any problems.

country style ragu

Prep time 30 minutes – cooking time 2 hours

3 Tablespoons olive oil

2 ounces pancetta, finely chopped

1 medium onion, minced

1 medium stalk celery, minced

1 small carrot, minced

4 ounces Italian sausage

12 ounces ground chuck

2 ounces finely chopped Porsciutto di Parmi

2/3 cup dry red wine

1 1/2 cups beef stock

2 cups milk

4 roasted Roma tomatoes, chopped

salt and pepper

This sauce can be made 3 days ahead, kept in the fridge, or can be frozen for up to 1 month.

browning the base –

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. (Have large bowl at hand for when browning is complete) Add pancetta and minced vegetables and saute, stirring frequently for 10 minutes.


Mix all the meats together and stir into the pan. Slowly brown over medium heat. Stir often. Protect the brown glaze forming on the bottom by turning the heat down. Cook 15 minutes, or until the meats are a deep brown.


Reducing and simmering –

Place the brown meats in the bowl and set aside. Add the wine to the skillet, lowering the heat so the sauce bubbles quietly. Stir occasionally until the wine has reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Scrape up the brown glaze as the wine bubbles. Then pour the browned meats back into the skillet.

Stir 1/2 cup stock into the skillet and let bubble slowly, for 10 minutes, or until totally evaporated. Repeat with another 1/2 cup stock. Stir in the last 1/2 cup stock along with the milk. Adjust the heat so the liquid bubbles very slowly. Partially cover the skillet and cook 1 hour. Stir frequently to check for sticking.

Add the tomatoes. Cook uncovered at a very slow bubble for another 45 minutes, or until the sauce resembles a thick, meaty stew. Season with salt and pepper.



prep time 15 minutes

4 Tablespoons butter

4 Tablespoons flour

2 2/3 cup milk

salt and pepper

freshly grated nutmeg

Using a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, continue cooking and stirring for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and hint of nutmeg.


assembling the lasagne

large pot of water

9 x 13 baking dish

1 recipe spinach pasta

1 recipe bechamel

1 recipe country style ragu

1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop about 4 pieces of pasta in the water at a time. Cook about 2 minutes for fresh pasta, 4 minutes if you have dried it. The pasta will continue cooking during baking, so make sure it is only barely tender. Lift the lasagne from the water with a skimmer, drain, and then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking. When cooled, lift out and dry on a layer of towels. Repeat until all the pasta is cooked.


To assemble, spread a thin layer of bechamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of overlapping sheets of pasta over the bechamel. Spread a thing layer of bechamel (about 3 – 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta, and then an equally thin layer of ragu.


Sprinkle with layer of grated cheese. Repeat until all ingredients are used, finishing with bechamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of cheese.

I had enough of each of the sauces to do 8 layers.

Baking and serving –

Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagne. Bake 40 minutes, or until almost heated through. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, or until hot in the center (test by inserting a knife – if it comes out very warm, the dish is ready). Take care not to brown the cheese topping, It should be melted, creamy looking and barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagne rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.


The lasagne was enjoyed by the girl and her spouse.


It was declared throughout the land that not only could the girl make pasta, but she had made the best lasagne that either of them had ever eaten.

And they all lived…


daring bakers served with extra daring this month

12-08-closeups-of-christmas-tree-4It’s the season for little things.  Little things hidden in the branches, to remind you what it felt like to be a child at this time of year.  Little things in boxes with bows to remind you that it’s not so bad to grow up.  And this year, little things hidden away in layers of dark chocolate mousse to make you wish you had been born in France. 


Another month has come to a close and that means it’s Daring Bakers time.  

This month’s challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron & Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.  They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.  Not just any Yule Log, an entremets, a creamy frozen yule log filled with layers of various textures and flavors.

While all working from the same basic recipes, we were given flavoring options.  After whittling down the recipe to the exact layers I would make, I was able to get the recipe down to 6 pages.  Honestly it sounds so much more complicated than it actually is.  I have reorganized my recipe to follow the order in which I made the elements, rather than the order it was place in the mold.  I made most of the elements the day before assembly.  The finished dessert looks like a great feat of engineering with the layers suspended in frozen chocolate mousse.  In reality, the key was organization. 

entremets – French Yule Log

Here is the order of elements for the frozen yule log, followed by the recipes and assembly instructions.

praline paste (this isn’t an element, but an ingredient for the praline feuillete)

Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert

Creme Brulee Insert

Hazelnut Dacquoise Biscuit

Dark Chocolate Mousse

Dark Chocolate Ganache Insert

Dark Chocolate Icing

I used a 9 1/4″ x 5 1/4″ x 2 3/4″ loaf pan as my mold for assembling the log.

praline paste

1 cup hazelnuts toasted and skinless

2/3 cup sugar

line a jellyroll with lightly buttered parchment

Put sugar in 10″ skillet.  Heat on low 10-12 minutes until it melts around the edges.  Do NOT stir, only swirl if necessary to prevent from burning.  Brush sides with water to also prevent from burning.

For me, this took about 20 minutes.  I had to do it twice.  I found it worked a million times better if I heated it on a small burner.  My large burner would burn the edges, without melting the center.

When melted and caramel in color, remove from heat and stir in nuts with wooden spoon.  Return to low heat and stir to coat nuts.  Cook until mixture starts to bubble.  It is very hot.  Carefully pour onto the parchment lined sheet and spread as evenly as possible.  As it cools, it will harden to brittle. 

Break into pieces and place in food processor. 











 Pulse to powder then process to a paste (several minutes).  It will be similar in texture to almond paste.  Store in a cool dry place.  Do NOT refrigerate.

praline feuillete (crisp) insert

3.5 oz. milk chocolate

1 2/3 Tablespoons butter

2 Tablespoons praline paste

30 grams rice krispie cereal (you could also use a homemade lace crepe [gavottes], but I opted out this time)

Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler.  Add praline and cereal.  Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with chocolate.  Spread (with rolling pin) between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape.  Refrigerate until hard.  This can be made ahead a couple of days and wrapped in plastic wrap.

vanilla creme brulee insert

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup whole milk

4 egg yolks

2 Tablespoons sugar

1 vanilla bean

Heat the milk, cream, and scraped vanilla bean to just boiling.  Remove from heat and let steep for 1 hour.  In separate bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg yolks.  Pour the cream mixture into the yolk mixture and mix well.  Pour into mold and bake for 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center.  I tried this with a water bath and it took over two hours.  I would vote no water bath for this.  I would also skip the parchment lining next time.  It wouldn’t stick to the foil so some of the cream ran underneath it.  I used aluminum foil to make a mold slightly smaller than the loaf pan I would be using for the log.  You could also make it any size and cut to fit the mold when assembling. 










Let cool and put in freezer for at least 1 hour to firm up and facilitate the final assembly.  If well wrapped, it can keep in the freezer for a day or two.

hazelnut dacquoise biscuit

I used this for the bottom layer only, but you can use this to line the top of the mold as well. 

3/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon hazelnut meal

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

2 Tablespoons flour

3 medium egg whites (3.5 oz.)

4 Tablespoons granular sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix the hazelnut meal and confectioner’s sugar together.  Sift in flour.  In separate bowl, beat egg whites, gradually adding granular sugar until stiff.  Pour hazelnut meal mixture into the egg whites and blend delicately with a spatula.  Line a jellyroll pan with a piece of buttered parchment.  Spread batter onto paper to an area slightly larger than your desired shape and to a height of 1/3 inches.









Bake for approximately 15 minutes until golden.  Let cool and cut to desired shape.









It’s best to make the dacquoise the same day you will be assembling the log.

dark chocolate mousse

You will see that a Pate a Bombe is mentioned in this recipe.  A Pate a Bombe is a term used for egg yolks beaten with a  sugar syrup, then aerated.  It is the base used for many mousse and buttercream recipes.  It makes mousses and buttercreams more stable, particularly if they are to be frozen, so that they do not melt as quickly or collapse under the weight of heavier items such as the creme brulee insert.

1 + 1/4 teaspoons powdered gelatin

3 Tablespoons granular sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons light corn syrup

1/2 oz. water

3 medium egg yolks (50g)

6.2 oz. coarsely chopped dark chocolate

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Soften the gelatin in water. 

pc130492So hidden away in this recipe, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  I didn’t know what “soften the gelatin” meant for powdered gelatin.  Once, years ago, I special ordered sheet gelatin that I used for a mirror gilding project, but other than that, I have NO gelatin experience.   Our recipe said “If using powdered gelatin, follow the directions on the package”.  My box had no directions for softening.  I turned to Ask. com.  The first site I looked said there was no reason to explain softening/blooming gelatin to the American housewife because they all make so much jell-o.  Oops, guess I’m a bad housewife.  I finally found out that all you are doing is sprinkling the powder over water.  I also found out  this works best in a shallow dish that allows for more surface area for the gelatin to work with. 



 Make a Pate a Bombe

Beat egg yolks until very light in color (about 5 min.)  In a small saucepan, cook the sugar, corn syrup, and water on medium hear for about 3 minutes (to 244 degrees).  Add the sugar syrup to the beaten yolks carefully by pouring it into the mixture in a thin stream while continuing to beat the yolks.  This is best done with an electric mixer.  Continue beating until cool (about 5 min.).  the batter should become thick and foamy.









In a double boiler, heat 2 Tablespoons of the heavy cream to boiling.  Add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smooth.

Whip the remaining cream until stiff.

Pour the melted chocolate over the softened gelatin, mixing well.  Let the gelatin and chocolate cool slightly and then stir in 1/2 cup of cream to temper.  Add the Pate a Bombe.

Add in the rest of the cream, mixing gently with a spatula.

Best made the day of assembly.

dark chocolate ganache

Because the ganache hardens as it cools, you should make it right before you intend to use it to facilitate assembly.  Please be careful when caramelizing the sugar and then adding the cream.  It WILL splatter and bubble.

4 Tablespoons granular sugar

2/3 cup – 1 Tablespoon heavy cream (4.5 oz)

5 oz. dark chocolate chopped

3 Tablespoons + 1/2 teaspoon softened butter

Make a caramel:  Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small saucepan with high sides.  Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt.  Never stir the mixture.  As the sugar starts to melt, you can swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly.  I had better luck if I didn’t stir it.  Cook to dark amber color.  While the sugar is melting, heat the cream until boiling.  Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly careful.  Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the dark chocolate.  wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth.  Add the softened butter and whip hard and fast (or use an immersion blender).  The chocolate should be smooth and shiny.












dark chocolate icing

Because the icing gels quickly, you should make it at the last minute.

1 Tablespoon powdered gelatin (the original recipe said 1/2, but this would not gel for me)

1/4 cup heavy cream

5 Tablespoons granular sugar

1/4 cup water

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes.  Boil heavy cream, granular sugar, water, and cocoa together and cook an additional 3 minutes after reaching the boiling point.  Add gelatin and mix well.








Let cool while checking the texture regularly.  As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to gel), use immediately.

assembling the yule log

Line your mold with parchment.  I cut mine into a cross shape so the corner wouldn’t be bunched up (because there’s nothing worse than a bunched up corner on your entremets, right??)  You could pipe the mousse, but I simply scooped 1/3 of the mousse into the bottom of the pan and and evened it out with an offset spatula.  Take the creme brulee insert out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse.  Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse.  Scoop another 1/3 of the mousse around and on top of the creme brulee insert.  Cut the praline crisp insert to a size slightly smaller than the mold so it can be surrounded by mousse.  Lay it on top of the mousse.  Put the last third of the mousse on top of the praline.  Freeze for a few hours to set.  Remove from freezer.  Spread the ganache insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight edges so that the ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the dacquoise on top.  Close with the dacquoise. 













the next day

Unmold the dessert and set it on a wire rack over a shallow pan.










As you can see, I should have squished my dacquoise a bit more to get the ganache all the way to the edges.

Cover cake with icing.  I didn’t have a lot of extra icing, so I set up a system with two different racks and cookie sheets.  Alternating one for the log to rest on and using to other to pour the runoff icing on the edge of the cake.pc130513-2









The icing gels quickly when it hits the cold mousse.  Once the icing is set, return the cake to the freezer.  This is best eaten the day it is assembled.  Transfer to the refrigerator 1/2 hour before serving.  I warmed my knife under hot running water and then wiped it dry before cutting.