Fraisier/Framboisier

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Country of origin: France

I have been meaning to make these for a while and have finally assembled most of the equipment needed. You only really need a large sheet pan (for the sponge layers), a cake ring and some acetate, although even cling film/Saran wrap will do.

I would recommend doing these first steps two days before you want the cake:

1. Make the pastry cream, which you can lighten with whipped cream or butter (making it into mousseline). I used the pastry cream recipe in here, and I used double the recipe for a ten-inch diameter cake. Cover with cling film/Saran wrap and cool, then store in the fridge.

2. Make some simple syrup.

3. Make any chocolate decorations that need to harden and set.

4. Raspberry coulis topping (optional): make rapsberry coulis following the recipe in here, but don’t add the gelatin (do that just before you pour onto the cake.) If you don’t want to add the raspberry coulis just glaze the top layer of the cake with neutral glaze instead (which I did with the larger cake pictured below.)

The day before you want the cake:

5. Make the sponge layers, you can use a genoise sponge, regular sponge cake or a butter-less sponge recipe. I used this recipe (under Chocolate Joconde, and omitted the cocoa powder) and it makes enough for one half-sheet pan. Use a spatula to smooth the batter in the pan, to ensure you get even layers. However, do this quickly and with light hands: you don’t want to beat out all the air bubbles in the meringue.

6. While the sponge is baking, you can prepare and cut the fruit you plan to use. Traditionally this is strawberries cut in half or raspberries left whole, but I don’t see why you couldn’t try something else, mango perhaps?

7. Cake assembly:

Once the sponge is baked and cooled, remove from the pan and cut it to size using the cake rings. You want two layers for each ring. Cut on the outside of the ring, as you want a snug fit when the biscuit goes in the ring (no gaps please, otherwise the pastry cream will seep through!).

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On a tray or plate lined with parchment paper (check that this tray/plate fits in your fridge!), place the cake ring for cake assembly. Line the inside of the cake ring with acetate or cling film/Saran wrap. Then put the first layer of sponge in. Brush with simple syrup.

Align your fruit, equal distances apart in a circle, cut side out. Make sure you leave enough room at the top for another layer of sponge plus a bit more.

Put your pastry cream/mousseline in a piping bag and pipe the cream in between the strawberries. Then put a spiral of cream in middle and top with some chopped fruit.

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Using an offset spatula, smooth out until it’s flat and you can just see the tips of the strawberries upright strawberries.

Add the next layer of sponge and syrup it.

Now you’ll only have a little space left. Add a final layer of pastry cream. Smooth this completely with an large flat knife/ruler.

Put in the fridge to firm, you can leave it overnight, but at least a couple of hours.

After a couple of hours it’s time for the glaze/raspberrry coulis final layer or neutral glaze.

If you have neutral glaze, which you can buy here, heat it up as per instructions and glaze. Confidence is the key! Pour it on when it’s nice and liquid and using a flat knife spread it so it’s even. Again, back in the fridge to set.

Alternatively, you can pour on your raspberry coulis, with gelatin added.

Once the whole cake has sat in the fridge for a while, you can take the ring off carefully and peel off the acetate from the side of the cake.

Decorate as you wish and eat!

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Tips:

Don’t use skimmed milk if the recipe calls for whole, i tried and ended up with split and grainy pastry cream.

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Galette des Rois

Finished galette second

Country of origin: France

This delicious almondy King Cake is made to celebrate the Epiphany, and the Three Kings around January 6th every year.  Never having grown up with this tradition,  I think it’s a lovely post-Christmas luxury: puff pastry, almonds, pastry cream… The galette is traditionally circular and is a disc of puff pastry, filled with almond cream or frangipane (almond cream with pastry cream), sealed with another disc, egg-washed and then decorated by scoring with a knife.  A very useful blog post about making your own is Chocolate and Zucchini’s post on making your own Galette des Rois.

Attempt one was rather a disaster, as I was in rush – never a good idea when baking – and number two the ready-made puff pasty I bought had torn, so I made the silly decision to fold it over itself and roll it out again (I should have just kept rolling and patched up the rip I think). As a result, the pastry didn’t rise as much as it should have and it tore during baking. It still tasted good though, if a little rich – I had filled it with almond cream alone.

I thought I’d have another go on a lazy Sunday morning, and whilst I still haven’t managed to muster the courage to make my own puff pastry, I tried the galette again, with mixed results. I used this recipe, but diluted the almond filling with one batch of pastry cream from this book. The pastry still cracked in the oven, but the taste of the filling was much better. The frangipane filling was divine(!). By the second slice, I had to add  a handful of berries to cut through all that sweetness, which made me think of making a Galette des Rois with a fruit puree layer…for next year.

Almond cream and pastry cream

Raw galette

Anyway, to be tried again, when my arteries have recovered from all the butter. I will get it round and it will not crack!

Tips:

-Once you’ve rolled your puff pastry out to the required thickness, let it rest for at least 15 minutes, covered, in the fridge, to avoid it shrinking in the oven

– Watch that egg wash, make sure it’s evenly spread and not pooling in places, as they may burn and stop even rising of the pastry

-Practice your design on a piece of paper, to ensure a steady hand

Petit Fours

Country of origin: France

Petit fours, petit fours, what’s not to love? Yes, they are cutes-y, and a pain to make, but you can eat ten and not feel bad. Really though, if you haven’t had dessert and want something little and sugary with coffee, these hit the spot.

I can’t wait to build up a catalogue of petit fours, but to start with, I made mini boat-shaped fruit tarts, chocolate eclairs, cream puffs and chocolate macarons.

The pastry for the tarts was from Ladurée’s Sucre book, and the pastry cream from Annie Rigg’s Macarons book. Each tart was topped with a teeny slice of strawberry, a blueberry and a raspberry. Of course, these would have been delicious with grapes, banana slices, orange segments or kiwis as well. I didn’t glaze them.

The chocolate macarons gave me a lot of trouble, I rushed and put them in the oven when they were slightly tacky and did I pay! A whole tray of shells completely cracked. Lesson learned! I also found that they had a slightly oily look about them, and apparently, according to this excellent trouble-shooting site, it may be due to oily almonds. They suggest drying out the ground almonds in the oven before use. The macarons that I could salvage were sandwiched together with the same chocolate pastry cream used to fill the mini eclairs.

The eclairs were choux pastry and I found a new way of cooking them, following the Laduree’s recipe: Cooking at 350 F/177 C for ten minutes, but then opening the oven door a crack and letting them bake for another twenty minutes, to allow the steam to escape.

After the choux pastry has come out of the oven, cool a bit and then using a pastry tip, make a hole in the bottom. You can fill eclairs with fresh cream, but I used pastry cream (recipe from Macarons) and added some chopped dark chocolate to taste.

Topping the mini eclairs with melted chocolate fondant was really tricky and I need to practice more to get a clean finish. I made fondant with icing/powdered sugar and water, quite thick, and then added some cocoa powder until I was happy with the colour. I then heated it up in the microwave in ten-second blasts to get it soft and runny enough to run off a teaspoon onto the teeny filled eclairs. I had some spare choux pastry left, so piped some little buns, and filled these with sweetened whipped cream.

The Lavender Trials

I’ve never worked with lavender: it’s floral, it’s in candles and bath oil, it has pretty flowers, but can you bake with it?

After umming and ahhing about which fillings to use for these lavender macarons I decided to try them all: white chocolate ganache, buttercream and a mousseline (made from crème pâtissière with butter and whipped cream added to it!). I went purple-crazy and made further variations by adding blackberry compote to each of these and separately, fresh blueberries.

The clear winner for the filling was the mousseline by itself, as it was nice and light and didn’t compete with the lavender flavor of the shells. There are only a few steps for this stellar filling: heat milk and vanilla until they are steaming. In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar, and then add the cornflour, making sure it’s nice and smooth. Add the hot milk a little at a time to the egg yolk mixture, whisking as you go, ensuring that you don’t shock the eggs into cooking. Then add all the mixture back to the heat and keep stirring until thickened. Take off the heat and add the butter, and once it’s cool, fold in the whipped cream. Leftover mousseline can be used to fill profiteroles, chocolate eclairs, in a fruit tart, eaten neat, the list goes on…

Buttercream and blackberry compote 

The buttercream was OK, rather sweet and my attempts to balance this out went too far with the the very tart blackberry compote.

The blueberries and white chocolate ganache filling 

Next, the white chocolate ganache filling. This was delicious, but pretty sweet again, and maybe overpowering the delicate lavender in the shells. I think white chocolate ganache would be more suited to dark chocolately shells instead.

All in all, a calorie-laden and informative afternoon. I am now a firm believer in using a variation on mousseline as a filling for many macaron flavors, especially for the more delicate ones. My only regret was that I didn’t have any teensy dried lavender flowers I could scatter on the macaron shells before baking but…a few days later, a friend and I made them again, with flowers. The result: almost too pretty to eat.

Tips:

– Go sparingly with floral flavors, about a teaspoon and a half of lavender extract was good (for a 200g icing/powdered sugar and 100g ground almond recipe)

– Definitely give the macarons time in the fridge to meet and greet with the fillings, it gives the filling time to permeate the shells

– After lightly burning many shells, I’ve learned that my oven is better at 300 Farenheit/149 Celcius oven for about 12 minutes (rather than the 325Farenheit/162 Celcius recommended by the book)