Back to School…Pastry School

Le Cordon Bleu. Well. What do you think of when you hear those three words? A master chef? A piece of chicken stuffed with cheese and ham or bacon? France? Julia Child? I probably think a bit of all of these but more high standards, super high kitchen skill levels and, where a cookbook is concerned, complicated.

So why, do you ask, did I lug home (well, drove home…I didn’t want to drag this thing on the ION!) the heavy, 500 page copy of Le Cordon Bleu Pastry School from the library? Partly as a challenge to myself. Definitely in the hopes of learning something new. And yes, I was wooed by the beautiful photos (check out the mirror glaze on the cake on page 252) and the elegance of this new cookbook.

I have to say I was pretty excited on my first look through. So many delicious sounding and looking baked goods. Pastries, yes, but also cookies and desserts. Where should I begin?

On closer inspection the first thing I discovered is that a lot of the recipes I was tempted by would require me to go shopping for critical ingredients. As I delved further into the cookbook, that shopping list was going to expand to purchasing new equipment, baking tins etc. Now, as much as I like trying new recipes, I’m not the type to buy a special tin to make a one-off recipe. Nope.

So, my ambitious “to try” list had to be edited down to a more reasonable (practical? economical?) level. I started off with a lemon pound cake. I do not have mini loaf tins so I made it as one large cake and that worked out just fine. Easy to make, moist and delicious, this was all starting out on a high. The Black Forest Gateau and the Chocolate Berry Cake were very tempting but I’m going to hold off until a dinner party with family or friends to give them a go.

The chocolate marble cakes once again required a special tin so I opted instead for “individual” (they’re too big to be “individual”, really) bundt cakes. I didn’t get the swirl right so ended up more with two-tone cakes than marbled. The cake was dense and rich; more than the pound cake was actually. For presentation, I piped whipped cream on the cakes and added slices of mandarin oranges. They looked pretty fabulous and tasted good although a bit heavy for my liking.

cordon bleu 004The final recipe I tried was my favourite. They were a sandwich-style cookie made with ground almonds and glued together with chocolate ganache. The dough and the ganache came together easily. Whilst they didn’t look like the photo in the book, they did look very good. Colour was even, nice flavour and that ganache. Yum!

So, while I may not have invested in new equipment, perfected my piping or attempted a macaronnade or entremets, I do not feel defeated. I took out a Cordon Bleu cookbook, made a few items with very good result and have two in hand for the future. I’d say that’s très bon.

  • Sandi H.

Sandwich Style Chocolate Biscuits

Ganache (make this the night before!)

200 grams / 1.6 cups chocolate (65% cocoa)
225 ml cream
22 grams glucose (I used 4 tsp of white corn syrup instead)
35 grams butter / 2.5 tblsp butter

Dough

120 grams / ½ c butter, softened
25 grams / ¼ c ground almonds (I used a little less than ¼ c)
65 grams / ½ c icing sugar (a generous ½ cup)
2 grams / ½ tsp salt
1 egg
200 grams / 1.6 cups all purpose flour

For the ganache, chop chocolate and place in glass bowl. Heat cream until just below boiling. Remove from heat and mix in glucose/syrup. Pour the hot liquid over the chocolate and mix well with whisk. Mix in the butter. Cover with cling film and let stand at room temperature overnight.

Preheat oven to 300F.

Cream butter, almonds, icing sugar and salt together. Mix in egg and then flour to make a smooth dough. Roll out on lightly floured baking board until 4mm thickness.

Cut into medium-sized circles (or whatever shape is your preference), approximately 20 cookies. Take 10 of the cookie, and cut out a small circle or heart in the middle. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until the bottoms of the cookies are light golden brown. Set on cooling rack to cool completely.

To assemble the cookies, spread ganache on the solid disks. Place the biscuits with the cut out on top. Press together lightly to encourage “sealing”. Let sit to stabilize.

These cookies will stay fresh for at least a week if stored in an airtight container.

The ganache can be stored in a glass jar, tightly sealed, in the fridge. It made an excellent glaze for baked chocolate donuts a week later…but that’s for another review!

Perfection is Hard to Live Up To

I recently borrowed a book from the library called The Perfect Cake. It’s part of a series from America’s Test Kitchen which includes The Perfect Cookie, which I reviewed already. Four hundred pages of cake recipes, some simple, some rather more involved, and all looking divine in the many (many, many) photos.

Like other ATK books, The Perfect Cake starts out with some fundamental information on baking. Among other things there are handy tips on preparing the pan properly (nothing worse than baking a wonderful cake only to discover that you can NOT get it neatly out of the baking tin), checking for done-ness, types of frosting and advice on essential utensils and equipment for a baker’s kitchen. There is also a chapter on “Cake Building Blocks” which walks new bakers through basic ingredients.

As they say in the beginning of the book, “Like all baking, cake making is a science but it doesn’t have to be intimidating.” Personally I have always never found baking intimidating. Baking relaxes me, it brings back wonderful family memories and it makes me happy. A colleague once commented that they could tell when my stress level was up because I brought in lots of baked goods to work. Let me be clear, they weren’t complaining about being the recipients of home-baked goodies, they were just kindly concerned with my blood pressure. To me, the most stressful thing about baking is narrowing down what recipes I’m going to try next. That all being said, this cookbook did cause me some stress.

51v9Qmq53aL._SX260_The first couple of recipes I tried were very good. The Easy Chocolate Snack Cake was just that. One bowl + basic ingredients + simple instructions = Tasty Moist Chocolate Cake. I also made the Lemon Bundt Cake for my mother-in-law’s birthday. I hadn’t made a bundt cake in years (I can’t really say why) and this one have given me reason to make them more often. Very lemony and with a rich texture similar to a pound cake. It came out of the pan easily and, once cooled, I decorated it with the lemon buttermilk glaze and zest. Two thumbs up from the entire family.

I was thinking, “Wow. This book really IS about perfect cakes.” when things went south with the Strawberry Cupcake recipe. I was taking part in a bake sale in support of the local humane society. The recipe sounded wonderful, using the juice from actually strawberries (reduced to a syrup) for flavouring rather than cheating with artificial products.

I followed the recipe and everything seemed to be going well although the batter was very thin. I triple-checked the recipe quantities and then noticed in the recipe there was a special notation the “…mixture will look soupy”. Fair enough. I divided the batter evenly into the cupcake liners and popped it in the oven for the recommended 15 to 20 minutes.

Nothing happened. No rise. Nothing. When removed from the oven, the cupcakes were flat and with a texture that resembled a sodden sponge. I took a tiny taste and, to be frank, spit it out. And there went my cupcakes, into my green compost bin. Major fail. And on the night before a charity bake sale!

A few bad words and a deep breath later and I quickly whipped up a Hot Milk Cake. This old school recipe used to be in every community cookbook and is one my Mum has used for many years. A short while later I had a baker’s dozen of light, fluffy, vanilla cupcakes. I topped my cupcakes with a strawberry mousse and was able to sell them the following day…and help my colleagues raise over $300 for the KW Humane Society!

In spite of the cupcake fail, I’m still impressed by this cookbook, especially given how delicious the snack and bundt cakes were. I certainly won’t be buying The Perfect Cake but it’s worth a borrow. Just go with your gut instinct if something looks a bit off because it might be time for some improv!

– Sandi H.

Dorothy’s Hot Milk Cake

½ c milk
1 tbsp butter
2 eggs
¾ c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350F.

In small saucepan, melt butter in milk. Set aside off heat.

In mixing bowl, beat eggs until thick. Add sugar & vanilla and beat again.

Alternate adding the milk mixture and the dry ingredients, mixing to combine.

Divide between 2 – 8” round cake tins (greased) or 12 cupcake liners. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the cake passes the toothpick test.

Cool for 5 minutes in the pan before removing to a rack to cool completely before decorating.

Daisy Cakes

I have always love daisies. They are one of my favourite flowers. Actually, any flower resembling a daisy is a favourite. I love the word, the cheerful vibe, the happy look. I even named my cat Daisy. So a book called “Daisy Cakes Bakes” absolutely had to make its way into my hands.

The story behind Daisy Cakes rests with Kim Nelson. Raised in the South, Nelson grew up eating homemade food created with fresh ingredients from their own land. Eggs from the family’s chickens, veg from their own garden, hand-churned butter, and so on. However, knowing that not everyone enjoyed baking as much as she did, Nelson had an idea.

In 2011, she applied to be on the American TV show, Shark Tank. Nelson made her presentation and secured a $50,000 investment from “shark” and real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran. Her idea? Continue to bake her family’s tried-and-true recipes using locally sourced ingredients and then deliver them fresh to homes across the country.

In the first year Daisy Cakes sold more than 25,000 cakes in every state. As her business grew (and encountered a few big bumps along the way) Nelson said that everything, ingredients, baking tins, labels etc. still came from domestic sources. Before “Shark Tank”, the Daisy Cake annual sales were $27,000. By 2017, the number had grown to $5 million. Now that’s impressive…but is the new Daisy Cakes Bakes cookbook as impressive?

The book is nicely designed with inviting images and short, personal stories about each recipe. There are handy tips like “Freezing the cake layers make them much easier to frost. I usually freeze them for 2 to 3 hours, uncovered on a sheet pan. Spreading the frosting over the frozen layers keeps the crumbs out.”

I decided to make a cookie and, of course, a cake recipe. I originally had borrowed the book in the winter so made a partial batch of Nelson’s Gingerbread Cookies to compare with mine. I have a wonderful recipe I have used for years and thought I’d do a “cookie-off”. While the Daisy Cakes cookies were good, mine definitely won the blind taste testing as voted by family and friends.

91Dmq6jxAYLThe second recipe I tried was “Your Signature Coffee Cake”. Coffee Cakes sound a bit retro but they are just wonderful if not too dry or loaded with way-too-much streusel topping. The cake smelled wonderful baking away with its blueberry & strawberry filling. I chose not to do a topping or glaze but probably would do if it was for guests as it is rather plain looking. The Daisy Cakes recipe made one very moist and tasty, can’t-stop-at-one slice cake.

There are quite a few other recipes I’d like to try including the Scotland Orange Cake (although the fact that it takes 9 eggs is a bit off putting), Butter Brickle Cookies (partly just because of the name) and Miss Geraldine’s Italian Cream Cake because the photo looks delectable. Overall, I’d say don’t bother ordering a Daisy Cakes cake (they don’t ship to Canada anyway) just bake it yourself with Kim Nelson’s easy-to-follow recipes. Two whisks up!

  • Sandi H.

Your Signature Coffee Cake

Cake Batter

½ c butter or margarine, room temperature
1 ½ c sugar
2 large eggs
1 c whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 c all purpose flour
¾ tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder

Filling

2 c. fresh blueberries (I used frozen mixed berries)
¼ c brown sugar
1 tblsp fresh lemon juice (my idea…and it was nice!
Zest of 1 lemon

Glaze (optional)

1 ½ c icing sugar
1tblsp whole milk
2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 1 – 8 x 8” baking pan. Set aside.

Beat butter and sugar on high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add in eggs and beat on high for 1 minute. Beat in milk and vanilla.

Add in dry ingredients, on low or stirring in by hand. Combine just until ingredient are all blended together. Set aside.

In food processor or blending combine filling ingredients.

To assemble cake, put 1/3 of batter in pan. Spread evenly. Add 2/3 of the filling. Spread evenly over batter. Top with the rest of the batter.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out with just a few crumbs on it.

Serving: when the cake is cool, mix the ingredients of the glaze together and pour over the top of the cake. Let sit before serving with some of the fruit filling on the side.