Tag Archives: baking

Très délicieux: Strawberry Napoleons with vanilla pastry cream and strawberry-thyme jam

Très délicieux: Strawberry Napoleons with vanilla pastry cream and strawberry-thyme jam

As General Napoleon Bonaparte once stated, “If you want a thing done well, do it yourself,” so the next time you’re entertaining and have to make dessert, in the don’t half-ass it by buying a cake at the supermarket. Get in the kitchen and express your culinary flair with a homemade treat like these strawberry Napoleons (no short Frenchmen needed). This take on the traditional French dessert (a.k.a.: mille-feuille) is made up of layers of flaky puff pastry smothered with vanilla pastry cream and strawberry-thyme jam, topped with fresh strawberries and powdered sugar. I promise you don’t need to be a trained pastry chef to pull this off.

The homemade jam I used was infused with fresh thyme — a lovely sweet-savory combination — but feel free to use store bought instead. (Tip: Infuse store bought jam with thyme by heating both together with a little water in a pot over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes, then let cool to room temperature.) As for the vanilla pastry cream (a cooked custard), you can have the bragging rights by making it yourself, but if you’re in a pinch, simply use vanilla pudding in its place.

I urge you to go forth and conquer this dish for a special occasion (or any dol’ ay), and remember: it won’t be as difficult as the Battle of Waterloo — it’s just dessert.
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French breakfast muffins that are c’est magnifique!

French breakfast muffins that are c’est magnifique!

As I’ve confessed before, I’m no pastry chef. I have little patience for exactly measuring and weighing flours, leaveners and extracts, then precisely mixing and baking until a dish is just perfect — but looks too good to even touch. But once in a great while, I get the baking bug and can’t wait to nosh on some carb-laden goodies warm from the oven.

And then I saw them.

While perusing through one of my favorite new cookbooks, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl by food blogger and now Food Network personality, Ree Drummond, I came upon the recipe for her French Breakfast Puffs. These fluffy, cinnamon- and sugar-topped beauties jumped off the page and called to me, “Bake me … bake me …” It was settled. I had to find an excuse to make them.

And ohh … they were so worth it. Tender, fluffiness on the inside with sweet and spiced, slightly crunchy tops — they were pure heaven. Their flavor reminds me of a cinnamon-sugar doughnut. I also like that the actual muffin batter isn’t overly sweet — notice there’s no vanilla extract used — which lets the sugary topping take credit for the sweetness. And talk about easy to make! One large bowl and a handheld mixer were the only items dirtied in the making of these muffins, and they took only five minutes to whip up. I will admit that the hardest part in the process was waiting the 25 minutes for them to bake, then letting them cool enough so I could handle them to apply the topping.

I made a few small changes from the original recipe, like swapping butter for shortening. Using real, quality butter gives these muffins a more, well, buttery flavor. My recommendation, butter-wise, is to use one with a high butterfat content, like the Irish Kerrygold or Plugrá. They’re pricier than store brand butter but have incredibly rich flavor and take baked goods to the next level. If I’m going to be consuming some empty calories, I’m going to make them worth it.

Honestly, I’m not sure if there’s anything particularly French about these muffins, but it doesn’t matter because they’re damn good. Great for breakfast, brunch or even a late-night snack, these French Breakfast Muffins are now going to be a staple of my baking repertoire and I highly encourage you to try them out as well.


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Freakin’ adorable: Apple-pecan-bourbon hand pies

Freakin’ adorable: Apple-pecan-bourbon hand pies

Autumn and winter are the only times of the year when you’ll catch me baking. I’ve been known to over-bake, over-whisk and over-mix many a dessert, and I have little to no patience for exactly measuring out ingredients. But the chillier months surrounding the holidays always get me in the mood to bake cookies and pies utilizing the bounty of fruits and spices available at this time of year.

A self-proclaimed “anti-pastry chef,” when I do take on the oven and create sweets I opt for simple baking recipes. I weaned myself off boxed mixes (it’s just plain cheating), but I’m still a fan of pre-made pie crusts and dough found in the freezer aisle at the grocery store. They’re very versatile, and defrosting them makes a smaller mess than making it from scratch — though more power to you if you’re into that.

My newest baked concoction (created with the help of a friend) is a play on the traditional apple pie that many folks enjoy during the holidays. These mini apple-pecan hand pies are a cinch to throw together and a great (and easier) alternative to making one huge pie.

The hand pie recipe uses puff pastry dough — often used in turnover pastries, strudel and for covering Beef Wellington — which can be found in your grocer’s freezer and creates a light, flaky crust when baked. The apple filling is sautéed in a pan first for a softer filling, but feel free to leave your apples raw if you want a crunchier texture. Just remember: If you don’t cook your apple filling first, you can’t pour bourbon in it and set it on fire (aka: flambéing) — which is the best part about making these.

As for apples, take your pick and go with your taste preference. I love the sweet taste of Galas and Comice apples, so that’s what I used in this recipe. For a tangier filling, opt for Granny Smiths.

Feel free to get creative with this recipe, and play with different spices, use an alternate filling — pears, chocolate, berries — or add mix-ins to your crust, like grated sharp cheddar, ground spices and nuts.
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The sweet and the savory: One basic recipe for bread pudding, two ways to make it

The sweet and the savory: One basic recipe for bread pudding, two ways to make it
Bread pudding duo sm

Broccoli, ham and cheddar (top) and pear-cranberry bread (bottom) puddings

Who doesn’t love bread pudding? It is warm, comforting, inexpensive and incredibly easy to prepare. It also makes for a great last-minute or make-ahead brunch or dessert dish, as you can have the ingredients prepped in no time and either throw it together and pop it right into the oven, or let it sit in the refrigerator overnight and bake it off in the morning.

With the following basic base recipe for bread pudding, you’re free to experiment with all sorts of sweet and/or savory combinations. I’ve also listed recipes for both a sweet and a savory bread pudding using the base recipe. I usually use French or Cuban bread, but if you’re feeling extra naughty (and not counting calories) challah bread and croissants make a great substitute. Heck, I’ve seen Paula Deen use a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts in her bread pudding!

The base recipe for bread pudding is all about the ratio and simple math. For a basic custard base, you’ll want to use a 2 to 1, milk to egg ratio. A large egg is about 2 ounces, so for every egg you use, you’ll need 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of milk. (And the ratio is the exact opposite if you’re ever making a quiche.) Instead of using just milk, sometimes I’ll do half milk and half heavy cream for a richer custard base. But if all of this math is too much for you, just follow my recipe below.
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