“Lightning!” That’s the literal translation from French I got when I put éclair into google translate. I’ve read a couple of explanations for this name, but only one makes any sense to me. “They disappear in a flash, quicker than a bolt of lightning.” This is the absolute truth. Éclairs are a formula for deliciousness…Starting with delicate pâte à choux (which has a rather indelicate translation of “paste of cabbage.” Representative of the cabbage shape, when piped into a profiterole (cream puff) and baked, not at all indicative of its lovely, buttery, rich flavor and light texture). The choux is piped into the shape of a small log. Once baked and cooled the log is filled with Crème pâtissière, “pastry cream,” which is simply custard that is thickened with both eggs and a starch, usually corn starch and flavored in this case with vanilla and white chocolate. The custard filled pastry is traditionally decorated with fondant, the shiny poured variety, not the rolled one we use for cakes. I find poured fondant, which translates as “melting,” (probably because it melts in your mouth or melts away your teeth with its sugary cloying-ness), much too sweet, so I use ganache. Ganache is a smooth mixture of chocolate and something else (cream, butter, coffee, water, booze, crème fraîche and/or anything else you can think of). There is no translation for ganache, but it stems from the word “jowl,” which I can’t even begin to ponder. I hope you all know that despite my very French name, Zoë François, meaning “Life Frenchman,” I don’t speak the language at all and therefore I will most likely be corrected by my French-speaking readers. Please, correct me if I’m wrong. Despite the odd names of all these things, they are quite sensational and will be consumed at lightning speed. (more…)
The patriotic colors and summery flavors combine to make this the perfect 4th of July dessert. Red raspberries, white chocolate pastry cream and blueberries top an almond shortbread crust. Add a dusting of confectioners’ sugar and you have an easy, yet elegant pastry. Given the holiday I made the tart in a rectangular pan to mimic the shape of the flag, but it also works well in a more traditional round pan or even as individual tartlettes. Later in the summer try this same dessert, but switch the berries for fresh peaches or plums.
Related post: Blueberry Cobbler with White Peach Ice Cream
Over the holiday break I traveled with my family to Brooklyn to visit my mother. A little respite from the winter wonderland of Minneapolis. I packed all my on-the-town shoes, in varying degrees of heels for walking through museums, dining out and seeing shows. My husband checked and rechecked the NY forecast and weather.com promised the most we’d see was 1/2-inch of snow, which would melt before it ever hit the pavement. By the end of our first full day in NY there was a complete whiteout and some of the subways were cancelled due to the blizzard. This NEVER happens. Our second day was spent shopping for winter boots, something all Minnesotans have plenty of and do not need to spend our vacations shopping for. But, the snow was now up to the boys’ knees and my suede heels were no longer as chic. The next morning we were quite happily trapped in Brooklyn by the snow. We put on our new boots and forged our way to the only open restaurant for breakfast and then watched movies all day, it was relaxing and felt quite luxurious after working so hard these past months.
(My mom’s Brooklyn garden during our visit)
Chocolate Blackout Cake recipe and a how-to video on frosting your cake. (more…)
The trifle acts as the perfect vehicle for cleaning out your refrigerator/freezer of all those tasty little treats you just had to hang on to. I am guilty of an overstuffed freezer. It must be my pastry chef days of NO waste, ever. It is something I am both proud of and annoyed by, because it means I have dozens, or more, of incredibly well wrapped packages of buttercream, truffles, cake, cookie dough, puff pastry and just about everything else you could ever want. BUT, there really isn’t enough of any one thing to make a full dessert, except trifle. Add some of the frozen berries from last summer, a touch of sherry and rich pastry cream to those too-good-to-throw-out cake scraps and you have a gorgeous dessert and less stuff in your freezer. Not sure why this essential dessert is named trifle, when it is clearly nothing shy of brilliant.
This all came about because I am trying to eat down my refrigerator before we leave for our trip. Next week I take off for Istanbul, Greece and Italy and the contents of my refrigerator will be much less charming when I return in a month. Some things will be left for the house-sitter, but the random packages in the freezer are something I’d rather they read about on my blog than see in real life.
While making this trifle, with a mind of not wasting anything at all, I discovered that I could use the left over egg whites to lighten up my pastry cream, instead of the customary whip cream, which doesn’t really “lighten up” anything. Since the pastry cream uses mostly egg yolks I had the whites just sitting around. Whipped up and folded in, they make the most exquisite textured custard I’ve ever had. This pastry cream recipe is destined for eclairs when I return!
This fall in the midst of my book tour was a François gathering. My husband’s family were all coming together in Vermont to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of his parents. This is no easy feat for this group, they are spread far and wide. Relatives came from Paris, New York, Toronto, Trinidad and of course, Minneapolis. Because of an engagement on the book tour I had to miss the anniversary party, but got there in time to have Thanksgiving dinner with everyone. In the airport on my way to Vermont I stopped at the magazine rack and picked up an issue of Fine Cooking that had a spread on Party Cakes. I’d left this very magazine on my kitchen table at home, where I’d been meaning to flip it open. In the mad rush that had led up to this moment I failed to plan what I’d be making for dessert, which was my contribution to the meal. I wanted to make cakes for Anna and Ewart, whose party I’d missed and they had to be something a little bit over-the-top and creative. My mother-in-law is a potter and adds a sense of beauty and creativity to everything she does. Her art and home represent a life that has been rich in travel, culture, a sense of wonder and mostly joy. These are all things that I admire tremendously and hope to create in my own life. So these cakes had to be something a little out of the ordinary. (Did I happen to mention that Graham’s sisters and brothers are tremendous cooks and his cousin is the executive chef at Balthazar/Pastis and Minetta Tavern in NYC?) No pressure, but my cakes had to kick ass!
The cake in Fine Cooking with the meringue topping all done up like curls reminded me of my son Charlie and seemed to have just the whimsy and statement that I was looking for. I made my own coconut pastry cream and meringue, but loved the flavor combination and attitude of what Rebecca Rather created on those pages. I’ve made this cake several times since and as you will see at the end of the post I often use my Devil’s Food recipe in place of the white cake. In both forms it disappears quickly and with much ooohing and aaahing. (more…)
This week was my husband’s birthday and he requested a true American classic for his cake, Boston Cream Pie. Light pillowy sponge cake with layers of rich vanilla pastry cream and topped with a smooth chocolate glaze. Why do we call this cake a pie? It was invented in the 1850s by a French pastry chef working in Boston. My theory is that he got lost in translation and mistakenly called it a pie! (but I’m making that last bit up.) Whether the name fits or not hardly matters, it is delicious. In fact, my family loved it so much the four of us ate the entire 8-inch cake in one sitting. I was thrilled except I never got a picture of it for this post.
The next day a package arrived in the mail from the White On Rice Couple, Diane and Todd. It was a perfect stickof Vietnamese cinnamon bark. I had won it during a giveaway they had on their fabulous website. It is not an exaggeration to say that this gift has changed my life. (more…)